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I have posted previously that after a thorough examination of reviews and opinions about Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, I had decided not to go.  It was clear to me simply by her allocation of film-time, some 45 minutes out of 2 hours, used to depict torture, that she had a point of view: that scenes of torture trumped in importance other possible scenes, in particular arguments and resignations over its use.

Today  an interesting and provoking philosopher and social commentator answers Bigelow’s defense of her scenes of torture.  He hits the problem with her claim on the head.

…Kathryn Bigelow justified Zero Dark Thirty’s depicting of the torture methods used by government agents to catch and kill Osama bin Laden:

“Those of us who work in the arts know that depiction is not endorsement. If it was, no artist would be able to paint inhumane practices, no author could write about them, and no filmmaker could delve into the thorny subjects of our time.”

Really? One doesn’t need to be a moralist, or naive about the urgencies of fighting terrorist attacks, to think that torturing a human being is in itself something so profoundly shattering that to depict it neutrally – ie to neutralise this shattering dimension – is already a kind of endorsement.

Imagine a documentary that depicted the Holocaust in a cool, disinterested way as a big industrial-logistic operation, focusing on the technical problems involved (transport, disposal of the bodies, preventing panic among the prisoners to be gassed). Such a film would either embody a deeply immoral fascination with its topic, or it would count on the obscene neutrality of its style to engender dismay and horror in spectators. Where is Bigelow here?

Without a shadow of a doubt, she is on the side of the normalization of torture…

Zizek points to Bigelow’s normalization of torture by asking us to imagine a similar ‘neutral’ presentation of the Holocaust.  The option that occurred to me when I read her justification was of child sexual abuse. Start a movie with 45 minutes of active pedophilia, say by a priest, and then carry on with his life, child drifted off the screen, with his other selves, counseling adults, saying mass, retiring to old age, with no discussion or tension through mise-en-scene of what he had done.  There would be a holy uproar.

Just so with Bigelow and torture.

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