Why Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar snub is a moral outrage

Because it’s the start of the school week, and because I happen to be doing a project somewhat (i.e. very remotely) related to this issue, here’s a departure from the posters and trivia I’ve been putting up the last couple of days. Mr. Scott Mendelson has given a very detailed and insightful critique of the controversy surrouding Zero Dark Thirty‘s portrayal of torture, at his blog Mendelson’s Memos. Head over for the full analysis; here are select lines I found the most powerful.

THURSDAY, JANUARY 10, 2013

Why Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar snub is a moral outrage.

Many who were too timid or wrongheaded to fully voice their opposition to torture back when it was first uncovered back in 2004 are now offering full-throated and fiery condemnations of Ms. Bigelow for showing recreations of torture and accusing her of endorsing the practice merely by refusing to explicitly condemn it. […] The core sin of Zero Dark Thirty is that it didn’t have a supporting character on the sidelines talking about the immorality and/or impracticality of torture.  It didn’t have a big scene where the major characters have a debate on torture.  Now such a scene would be implausible considering the film as it exists, yet the absence of this kind of condescending hand-holding has now opened the film up to accusations, from politicians, pundits, even religious leaders.

All because Bigelow and Boal didn’t spoon-feed their opinions to the audience in a way that made for easy digestion. They didn’t have a fictionalized scene where a character explicitly explains to the audience how they got each piece of vital information over the eight years during which the film takes place. They trusted the audience to make the connections. It’s the connection between the opening torture scene and the horrifying terrorist massacre that the torture fails to prevent. It’s the connection between the stopping of torture and use of trickery that elicits worthwhile information that eventually, eight years later and only after the discovery of information that had been in an old file all along, leads to Bin Laden’s compound. It’s the connection that bribery elicits the key information late in the game rather than torture. It’s the very fact that the film’s climactic raid is the least cathartic and least empowering moment of American violence one can imagine. Those whining that the film endorses torture seem to miss the point that the film doesn’t entirely endorse the execution of Osama Bin Laden, presenting it as perhaps a necessary evil but a vile, horrific, and brutish act of foreign aggression nonetheless.

Bigelow and Boal could have pitched the film to the dumber members of the audience. They could have had scenes where characters explicitly explained their own moral stances and/or the progression of information that is discovered over eight long and bloody years. They chose instead to trust the audience and the mainstream media and publicity-hungry politicians have betrayed that trust.  Bigelow and Boal trusted our intelligence and the reaction to the picture has now insulted our intelligence.

Truly adult films don’t hold our hands and explain everything to the audience. And in today’s 24-hour shock/outrage news cycle, there is no real chance for such a film. In an era where showing off behavior is automatically seen as endorsing it, in a time where a rather conventional hero’s journey like Django Unchained is considered ‘brave’ and/or ‘courageous’ purely because it happens to be about slavery, […] there is no room for subtly and nuance in today’s entertainment discourse. And that’s the real moral outrage. Bigelow will be fine. The film remains untouched for those who love it. But the damage has been done and the message is clear: Don’t treat adults like adults or you will be pounced upon like screaming children.

– Scott Mendelson

*My project’s actually an argument for/against legalising torture, specifically psychological torture or deportation (that the right word?) to countries that do torture, in response to the ticking time bomb scenario. Somewhat related.

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