9/11 is one of those rare moments in history where people remember exactly where they were when it happened. I was in my 7th grade homeroom waiting to go to my first class of the day. It’s odd how tragedies seem to be the only moments in history worth remembering for years to come, such as the bombing of Pearl Harbor or the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
But on May 1, 2011, we were reminded of 9/11 once again. I still remember the nervousness I felt when it was revealed that President Obama was making an unexpected announcement to the nation. Had we discovered life on Mars? Were we in danger of another attack? Our nation’s overwhelming reaction to the news of Osama bin Laden’s death is yet another moment in history that won’t soon be forgotten.
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by Mark Boal, “Zero Dark Thirty” is about a woman’s 10-year hunt for Osama bin Laden. Maya (Jessica Chastain) is a CIA agent assigned to assist in in brutal interrogations of terrorists with ties to al-Qaeda. A lead from an unknowing prisoner puts her on a path towards disappointment, tragedy and triumph.
To say Chastain is the only leading character would not be an understatement, which is why it doesn’t take long to realize how powerful her performance is. As much as I adore Jennifer Lawrence’s performance in “Silver Linings Playbook,” Chastain’s tenacity on-screen is mesmerizing. She deserves to take home Best Actress. Kyle Chandler, Mark Strong, James Gandolfini and Jason Clarke also deliver strong performances, though none of them dare try to outshine Chastain.
The framing technique used in “Zero Dark Thirty” provides a clear timeline of events, which is crucial when detailing the decade-long quest to find bin Laden. By giving the audience various locations and dates, we’re able to witness how the pieces of the puzzle were put together, how one bit of information leads down a road that was nonexistent just a few years before.
Although we already know how this ends, the film is suspenseful. No scene is more suspenseful than when federal agents and military personnel are awaiting the arrival of an al-Qaeda insider turned CIA informant.
There’s controversy surrounding the torture scenes at the beginning of the film. The movie doesn’t glorify nor condemn torture as a means of getting valuable information. The torture tactics are degrading and violent, and “Zero Dark Thirty” makes no apologies for our post 9/11 methods of interrogation. During the early stages of her operative, Maya shoots down a fellow CIA agent’s intelligence because it doesn’t align with bin Laden’s post 9/11 behavior, something she focuses on for most of the film. Whether she realizes it or not though, she too has developed her own post 9/11 behavior.
At the end of the film, Maya boards an aircraft. She’s killed bin Laden, and she looks exhausted, both physically and mentally. But I don’t think Maya is overcome with relief or joy. I think she’s at lost for what her life will become post bin Laden. Her identity was the mission, and now that the mission is no more so is Maya.