Tag Archives: Lauren Shaw

9. Zero Dark Thirty: The Director As Backing Singer?

A Wellington Sevens costume. Thanks, Stuff!

I didn’t much want to go to Zero Dark Thirty. I scare easily at the movies and don’t often watch war films or action films. I love thrillers though, and I’m waiting for a new thriller about the war against violence against women, an ongoing event in real time – on 14 February Eve Ensler’s One Billion Rising is a turning point in that story.

But I’d followed some of the controversy about Zero Dark Thirty, read reports of what Kathryn Bigelow says about her film and watched her speak on various clips. And I’m very interested in issues around work that’s hybrid, a mix of documentary and fiction (in New Zealand, Alyx Duncan’s recent The Red House and two projects that are on their way, Leanne Pooley’s Beyond the Edge about Sir Edmund Hillary’s ascent of Everest in 1953 and Gaylene Preston’s Hope and Wire series about the Christchurch earthquakes.)So when a beloved friend was willing to go to Zero Dark Thirty, someone I knew would hold my hand if I needed that, off I went.

I didn’t need my hand held. The film didn’t engage me enough on a visceral level. It’s very ‘talky’ and uses the talk  and ‘chapter headings’ to move the story along, so I kept missing bits and became confused (as did my mate). There was no point at which I cared about the central character, played by Jessica Chastain. If a man had directed Zero Dark Thirty, I’d have shrugged, enjoyed the rest of the evening on Wellington’s wild streets (it was a Rugby Sevens night and a lot of fun for an observer) and not given it another thought.

But because Kathryn Bigelow directed Zero Dark Thirty, I thought at length. Tweeted my interest in discussions and got a couple of responses. And kept thinking. I’ve come to two conclusions. One is that the film can be read as an art historically influenced statement about women and wars between religions and nation states. The other is that Kathryn Bigelow’s statement is compromised by her role as Mark Boal’s backing singer. Continue reading