Zero Dark Thirty (2012) — The Case for Maya

It’s refreshing to see films commit to a faithful retelling of events, and few compare to the significance of Zero Dark Thirty. The film continues to be a controversial in its depiction of the search. Join me as I explore the challenges against criticisms posed by populist postfeminism during the Global War on Terror.

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Full Essay —The Case for Maya: Zero Dark Thirty and the Challenges Against Criticisms Posed by Populist Postfeminism on the Global War on Terror

Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow, 2012) is a dramatic telling of the search for Osama bin Laden that occurred after the September 11, 2001 attacks and concludes with his targeted killing May 2, 2011. Marouf Hasian Jr. asserts in the essay “Zero Dark Thirty and the Critical Challenges Posed by Populist Postfeminism During the Global War on Terrorism” how ZD30 does little to aid the cause of feminism and in fact gives a false sense of equality by demonstrating how women have to act in the same barbaric ways as their male counterparts to achieve their goals. Hasian outlines how Bigelow and writer Mark Boal shifted their focus of ZD30 from a more conventional action film to highlight the intelligence analysts, collectors, and integrators efforts in finding bin Laden. This “On the ground” approach granted the narrative structure to focus more on the intelligence officers lives in the pursuit rather than taking a political stance on the administrations that caused them. The audience becomes attached to the central character Maya, played by Jessica Chastain, through her early efforts in the case and how she slowly overcomes the doubts of her male superiors. Maya, based on a real person, is followed from her first interrogations all the way to confirming the body of bin Laden, and it’s this arc that leaves some to question the greater motives of the film.

Hasian cites how Maya continues to exemplify a sense of nationalistic pleasure by perpetrating militaristic tropes. Hasian functionally condemns Bigelow and Boal because of not only how Maya’s agency is rooted in patriarchal dominance but that it’s mere focus on her actions does not explore how President Bush or Obama’s administration continued to unnecessarily continue enhanced interrogation techniques or question the legality of the operation in Pakistan as well as those in Afghanistan. Hasian too unfortunately becomes a part of this debate about how to portray the search and two wars. Although Maya does indeed come from a place of privilege, being molded by the Central Intelligence Agency at such a young age, that does not necessarily reflect her efforts as one who is an extension of patriarchal securitization or someone who is regretful — after all, those she interrogates are those plotting terrorist operations whose views and actions are malicious. What is implied by the end of the film is a complex set of justifications of the means of which were taken to succeed in preventing future life-threatening plots against innocent civilians.

“Where do you want to go?” are the last words uttered in the film both reflect a sentimental outlook on the character but also signify to the audience, and the U.S. for the matter, where do our justifications go from here? Where do we as a nation go after finding bin Laden? Do we feel better? It’s a notion that affects society as a whole not just a theme on the actions of men or women. Hasian does not include whether or not the notion of war, at its base conflict, is an inherent masculine trait, or what a feminist approach to war would be and whether or not it would work. What is known are the collaborative efforts in such operations featured in ZD30 illustrate how conflict is not bounded by gender. War is at the very least is androgynous in the way it can be carried out. Hasian agrees that Post Feminism can be and is many things, but finding gender identity in war in it of itself can become pedantic as war is a paradox of order and chaos that knows no bounds of some sense of social construction because it’s created to destroy it. Indeed war perpetuates violence, especially against women whom are likely to already be under patriarchal rule, which would stagnate some sense of social progress. More so Zero Dark Thirty shows how characters like Maya can and do exist, succeeding in exemplifying those who are willing to venture into moral dilemmas to achieve the greater good, an internal and seemingly eternal conflict in preventing terror and war. Conflicts are eventually resolved, for better or worse, sometimes taking a day or a decade.

Works Cited

Hasian, M. “Zero Dark Thirty and the Critical Challenges Posed by Populist Postfeminism During the Global War on Terrorism.” Journal of Communication Inquiry 37.4 (2013): 322–43.

Zero Dark Thirty. Dir. Kathryn Bigelow. Perf. Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt. Annapurna Pictures, 2012.