Sunday, 11 October 2015

Zero Dark Thirty: Event, Film, Technology, Illusion (Maya)

Zero Dark Thirty - a film

The historical event, the literary expression, the illusion and freedom from time and space




Zero Dark Thirty (2012) is a film about  "the story of history's greatest manhunt for the world's most dangerous man". Yes, it is none other than Osama Bin Laden. The film dramatizes the decade-long manhunt for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. This search eventually leads to the discovery of his compound in Pakistan, and the military raid on it that resulted in his death on May 2, 2011.

Zero Dark Thirty received wide critical acclaim, and appeared on 95 critics' top ten lists of 2012. It was nominated in five categories at the 85th Academy Awards, including Best PictureBest Actress for Chastain, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Film Editing, and won the award for Best Sound Editing. The film also earned Golden Globe Award nominations for Best Motion Picture – Drama,Best Director, and Best Screenplay, with Chastain winning the award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama. (Wikipedia).

The film is not about the brave and courageous attempt of Navy Seals in killing Osama Bin Laden. The film is about CIA agents who worked very hard in Afghanistan, Pakistan and various tough locations, at the cost of their lives, to track the trace of hidden Laden. On the morning of 3rd May 2012, we read in newspapers and watched on news channels about the tough tasks done by Navy Seals. But the real success of such operations lies not in field victory, it lies in feeds collected, organised and passed on to higher offices by secret service agents. If the best of the brains are employed for this task, the task for the field operations become child's play. That's what the film proves.

However convincing the film documents in fictional narration the events of the decade adter 9/11, the conspiracy theorists are not going to believe the story of the murder of Osama Bin Laden. With America's past records being mired in with doubts by conspiracy theorist, it is not easy to believe that some good morning, Osama Bin Laden is killed in an operation 'without casualties', except for a helicopter.

The question about the reality of this Geronimo Operation looms large. After all no body has seen the body of Laden. It is reported that it was buried in the sea.

Surprisingly enough, the film approved with edits by CIA, also remains silent and ambiguous about the real identity of Osama. In the film, except for Maya, CIA agent, no body is sure about the identity of the person in that hideout in Abbottabad. Maya, too, is in doubt. She do not have any proof to prove her claim. In fact, there were no proofs to prove that the person in that compound house was Osama Bin Laden. Several attempts to know the identity of the people failed. Even after the encounter, when the women in the house are asked about the old man, they said some other name. The photos are taken. The body is flown to US base n Jalalabad. Maya, 'visually confirms' (Yes, these are the words in the film) that the body is that of Osama. How can she? She has not seen him. No body has seen Laden for more than decade. So there is no certainty, in the film, about the identity of Osama. There are no blood samples and DNA things shown in the film. Why? It was fictional narration. Why this is not depicted? Why is the film silent on this issue of ascertaining identity of an old man killed and disposed off somewhere (film does not show that either) as Osama Bin Lade? Why the film ends with mere assumption that the man must be Osama? Why it is not proved scientifically? 

Well, there will be theories and histories but no facts or truths. Nietzche has rightly remarked that there are no facts, only interpretations. Julian Barnes in The Sense of an Ending wrote about History (citing Patrick Lagrange) that - 'History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation'. The 9/11, death of an old man, operation by Navy Seals are historical events. Very recent ones. We know that it happened, in a way, before our eyes. Quite consciously, we have experienced them. They are in our memory. And yet, the events are full of inadequate documents. Because there are no valid truths to connect Al Queda with 9/11 and certainty of the man killed in Abbottabad , they are recorded in memory as imperfect facts / truths. 

The one who are victorious, becomes the writer / narrator of the history. One who believes in this definitions are the defeated on and thus history is also self-delusion of the defeated. History and literature are deeply connected. Northrop Frye observed that Literature stands on the support of Philosophy and History. The film is a literary expression. Thus, an imaginary narration of the historical event. As time passes on the line of difference between history and its imaginary narration starts getting blurred and seems to be one and the same. Therefore, it becomes necessary to ponder upon the historical events which are near in time and consciousness and its narration in literature. This film (Zero Dark Thirty) is classic example of certainty produced at the point where inadequacies of documentation and imperfections of memory meet. Without any evidence, we are at the mercy of 'visual confirmation' of Maya. Maya is a Sanskrit word for “magic” or “illusion”) a fundamental concept in Hindu philosophy, notably in the Advaita (Nondualist) school of Vedanta. Maya originally denoted the magic power with which a god can make human beings believe in what turns out to be an illusion.


Well, the film is worth watching.Watch it for Maya. Her unflinching doggedness in pursuit of her goal. Her belief in what she believes. . . and later on she is the only one to confirm what she believes. That's where the symbolic significance of her name 'Maya'- an illusion becomes crucial to understand the film.

Brief note on Hollywood and Bollywood

Comparison of any sort is odious, but it is quite obvious. One can't escape comparison. It seems to be hard-wired in human psyche.  One thing is for sure that Bollywood (Hindi films) are very loud, melodramatic (which is pardonable looking at the way life is exuberantly lived) and 'unrealistic' (which is not pardonable). While we see films with similar themes, we find quite opposite treatment in Hollywood and Bollywood. It is not an issue. The films come from different culture and hence they ought to be different. But if the difference is breaching law of probability and necessity and dives deep into the ocean of unrealism, one's attention is drawn to it.
'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' - a Meera Nair film based on Mohsin Hamid's novel (same name) and Kabir Khan's 'New York' are based on similar theme. It is post 9/11 and muslims in USA. Apart from the loudness and melodramatic depiction, what gives us unrealistic and quite opposite images is the way FBI treats the alleged convicts. Needless to say, Meera Nair seems to be more realistic.
Even in this film (Zero Dark Thirty) and films with similar themes (Man hunt in foreign land) like Ek Tha Tiger, Holiday, Baby, Phantom etc, similar sort of unrealism is found. The agents (FBI or CIA or RAW) are picked up for their mental abilities and not physical. The Marines, Navy Seals, Military Jawans are picked up because of their physical abilities and not mental. So, when it comes to man hunt, the agent will apply his mental abilities but will never (and should never) jump in with open AK 47 or grenade bombs and start fighting with the one to be hunted. Maya (in Zero Dark Thiry) or any male agents do not do so. They feed in the information and seek help from the others, who are best for that task. Let us hope, Bollywood will be more realistic is portrayal of characters and situations.

I watch this film on YouTube. I rented the film for Rs. 50 for 48 hours. It was quite unique

experience. Though I watched on mobile phone, I had an option to screen share on Smart TV and have better cinematic experience. I rather opted for watching it while travelling in car from Ahmedabad to Bhavnagar. It is amazing to see how technology is changing the way we entertain ourselves. Technology of 21st century is giving us freedom - the freedom from time and space. There is no need to wait for the film to start (time) or to go to cinema theatre or near TV (space). Where-ever, when-ever, how-ever, we want to entertain ourselves, we can. Yes, we can!
How illusory is this freedom from time and space offered so easily by technology?