Well, the followup to Kathryn Bigelow‘s awards darling The Hurt Locker was always going to be much hyped, especially as the original working title was Kill Bin Laden. She’s since changed the name to something more subtle — Zero Dark Thirty — and this week the first trailer launched online to much excitement, speculation and hyperbole.
Co-written by Bigelow and Hurt Locker screenwriter Mark Boal, the trailer promises a lot of things, some I’m not sure it can live up to. Already touted as an Oscar contender, it’s interesting to note the film’s release was moved from it’s original pre-election release in October to a ‘safer’ post-election date of December 19th. There’s rumours the screenwriters were given exclusive access to classified government documents, discriminating comments are being hurled over YouTube and the general consensus seems to be that yep, this is happening, and can’t agree on how to feel about it.
So what’s there to feel about it?
Well, everyone likes a controversy, and there’s sure to be plenty of that. Everyone seems to like Kathryn Bigelow, especially from the awards season last year where she proved a much more likeable figure than her arrogant, frequently obnoxious ex husband, James Cameron. And there’s plenty of excellent actors in it, such as Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton and Chris Pratt. There’s all that going for it.
But something about this trailer, and the attitude it perpetrates, feels a little bit off.
The Hurt Locker was a stressful, unenjoyable and nightmarish movie experience for me, but that’s what makes it so excellent. War is fucking terrifying! You shouldn’t watch a war film and think “well, seems like a lark, count me in for the next one!”, which seems to be the frat-boy vibe of most action films set in war scenarios. But The Hurt Locker knows better than that, and it knows you have to be pretty messed up to ‘enjoy’ the horrors of war. It suggests that maybe you have to be this way to get through it. Needless to say, I’m not that person, so I was a nervous, shaking wreck by the end.
But, and this is a substantial but, the strength of The Hurt Locker was that it presented ugly truths of war, in your face, without political agenda. Obviously the topic of war is probably inherently political, but there wasn’t an ulterior motive behind the characters actions, or an overarching political stance on the war in Iraq. It was just the backdrop for exploring these characters and showing how they reacted to the situations unfolding around them.
Boal and Bigelow say they’ve applied the same tactic to their scriptwriting with this film, with Boal quoted as proclaiming, “There’s no political agenda in the film. Full stop. Period.” But a film about Osama Bin Laden, despised terrorist, enemy of the USA on both a political and pop cultural level, will obviously be political. It’s difficult to present a version of events that are supposedly ‘true’ and not expect people who have a huge emotional and societal investment to be indifferent.
My problem with the tactic of presenting action over drama in this scenario, is that majority of the comments since the trailer debuted are arguements over national pride, which. According to the debatable intelligence but widely seen opinions of YouTube users (comments have included “USA: the greatest war machine of all time”, “the entire western world depends on the US military” and “America, fuck yeah!”), it seems like most of the pre-emptive audience for the film will be going to see the death of Bin Laden and calling it patriotism. Yes, it seems impossible to present the events of this film without having a “let’s all go and see the USA kill Osama Bin Laden!” vibes, but surely Oscar-winning screenwriters (one of whom is an established journalist in his own right), can manage to explore this narrative as more than an action film about blowing up Iraqis. It seems like regardless of this film’s message, or lack thereof, people will draw their own unpleasant conclusions, regardless of how good the script is.
I’m interested to see how the marketing develops for this and how the press explore such a controversial theme. Obviously, the combination of a much-lauded filmmaker and topical subject matter are always going to be hyped, but it’s watching the reactions to this film unfold that should be the most telling. Until then, I think I’ll take to rewatching Point Break over The Hurt Locker.