One scene features a bloodied, disoriented and humiliated man is strapped to a wall with his pants around his ankles. A second scene depicts the same man having liquid forcibly poured down his throat; later, he’s shoved into a box that could barely hold your stereo. And all of this takes place in the first forty-five minutes or so of Zero Dark Thirty, the new movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden. It’s enough to make you wretch. It’s arguably the best and most important part of the movie.
Kathryn Bigelow’s new film about the decade-long manhunt for Osama bin Laden begins with an unsparing, nauseating and frighteningly realistic look at how the CIA tortured many people and reaped very little intelligence. Never before has a movie grappled with post-9/11 torture the way Zero Dark Thirty does. The torture on display in the film occurs at the intersection of ignorance and brutality, while the vast, vast majority of the intelligence work that actually does lead to bin Laden’s downfall occurs after the torture has ended.