Does Zero Dark Thirty celebrate torture, or condemn it?

Kathryn Bigelow's bin Laden movie is winning across-the-board raves. But critics are less unanimous about what to make of the movie's gruesome torture scenes

Joel Edgerton plays a Navy SEAL in Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow's Oscar contender about the hunt for bin Laden.
(Image credit: Facebook/Zero Dark Thirty)

Zero Dark Thirty, director Kathryn Bigelow's cinematic recounting of the events leading up to the killing of Osama bin Laden, is "garnering a pile of top awards and virtually uniform rave reviews," says Glenn Greenwald at Britain's The Guardian. And yet, "by most accounts, the film glorifies torture by claiming — falsely — that waterboarding and other forms of coercive interrogation tactics were crucial, even indispensable in finding bin Laden." The fact that the film — which Greenwald hasn't seen — is America-boosting Big Hollywood "propaganda" is no surprise, but still, Zero Dark Thirty disturbingly "propagandizes the public to favorably view clear war crimes by the U.S. government, based on pure falsehoods." Greenwald continues:

Shouldn't that rather glaring "flaw" preclude gushing admiration for this film?... Ultimately, I don't believe that this film is being so well-received despite its glorification of American torture. It's more accurate to say it's so admired because of this.... The normalization of torture — and of all crimes committed by the U.S. government in the name of war — is both a cause and effect of this film's success. That normalization is what enables a film like this to be so widely admired, and it will be bolstered even further as the film gathers more accolades and box office riches.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up
To continue reading this article...
Continue reading this article and get limited website access each month.
Get unlimited website access, exclusive newsletters plus much more.
Cancel or pause at any time.
Already a subscriber to The Week?
Not sure which email you used for your subscription? Contact us
Peter Weber, The Week US

Peter has worked as a news and culture writer and editor at The Week since the site's launch in 2008. He covers politics, world affairs, religion and cultural currents. His journalism career began as a copy editor at a financial newswire and has included editorial positions at The New York Times Magazine, Facts on File, and Oregon State University.