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Two Critics Explain why Dan from Zero Dark Thirty Decides to Return to DC

[SPOILERS AHEAD]

Here’s Aaron Bady of The New Inquiry, scribbling in the margins of his review, which argues that the film, by offering context for American violence but no context for Muslim violence, is a piece of propaganda: 

Note that the bearded CIA interrogator [Dan] leaves active service because he’s seen too many naked men; it isn’t a matter of doing terrible things, it’s that he’s starting to have queer desires, so he flees.

Um, OK.

Here’s Film Crit Hulk on the same moment:

FOR HULK, THE ENTIRE POINT OF THIS MOVIE IS SUMMED UP IN A SINGLE MOMENT. WHEN JASON CLARKE’S CHARACTER, CLEARLY AND DEEPLY DISTURBED BY THE AMOUNT OF TORTURE HE HAS DONE IN THE NAME OF DEFENDING AMERICA, HAS REACHED HIS BREAKING POINT, HE SHOWS IT IN HIS EYES… AND THEN SIMPLY PAWNS IT OFF IN A BRIEF MOMENT OF TOUGH GUY, HOMOPHOBIC BROISM, SAYING: “I’M TIRED OF SEEING SO MANY NAKED DUDES.” IT IS AN INCREDIBLE MOMENT OF A CHARACTERIZATION, RENDERING THE EXTERNAL WORDS A MERE REFLECTION OF THE TURMOIL WITHIN. EVERYTHING THE FILM HAS TO SAY ABOUT TORTURE AND OUR ROLE IN IT IS RIGHT THERE.

While I’m not sure I found the moment all-encapsulating like Film Crit Hulk did, I certainly didn’t literally think that Dan was fleeing his homoerotic urges by returning to Washington. It’s almost as if Aaron Bady watched Zero Dark Thirty looking for propaganda so hard he forgot to watch the movie. Opposite his bizarre read on Dan’s “naked dudes” comment, Bady also jots:

Note that Maya’s double dies when she bakes a cake, when she takes the wrong kind of pleasure in her job; Maya wins for her joylessness, but her double—who tried to encourage her to have fun and get laid—dies for enjoying her work too much.

My “Maya’s double,” he means “Jessica,” who isn’t “Maya’s double” at all, but a foil for Maya’s post-9/11 hardness. Earlier in the film, Bady might have noticed, the two have an exchange in the break room where Maya tells Jessica that you can’t pay a Jihadist off as an informant. They’re fundamentalists, says Maya, and Jessica’s assumption that everyone can be bought is a Cold War relic. When Jessica is finally blown to smithereens, it is because she believed a Jordanian doctor had been flipped for $25 million — the cake was likely a means of showing how giddy she was about finding a link to OBL, and her lack of knowledge about Muslim culture (“They don’t celebrate with cake,” Maya tells her over the phone), not some symbol of domestic joy in her work. 

I don’t think anyone bothers me more than the smug young intellectual who fancies himself smarter than virtually everyone because his small but effective toolset is so capable of breaking the world down into manageable parts*. I envy the clarity, though I’ve always suspected that viewing the world through such lenses can lead one astray. You might miss really obvious movie plot points.

*Am I wrong, isn’t this The New Inquiry’s whole deal? 

  1. funkyassdicegame reblogged this from willystaley and added:
    oh man, glad to see this. I think there’s a genuine case to be made for the film as propaganda, but that awful New...
  2. celebraterickysargulesh reblogged this from willystaley
  3. willystaley posted this