Saturday, February 02, 2013

Musing Pictures: Zero Dark Thirty

Partway through Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty," I found myself gripped by the realization that this film would forever paint my grasp of history. Sure, I knew about the pursuit of Bin Laden, about the stealthy raid on his Pakistani compound -- that was all in the news, and I tend to keep up with the news.  But the tone, the mood, the images (especially the images of the compound itself, which have become iconic, and synonymous with both the event itself and the film) are new, and are a product of the film and its creators.

At first, I found this realization troubling.  Who were these people that I should trust their version of history?  But then, it dawned on me, all of history, or what survives of it, is preserved in this way.

I recall learning in grade school that "history is written by the victor."  This year, we are reminded (perhaps) that history is actually written by the storyteller.

From "Argo" to "Lincoln" to "Zero Dark Thirty", it has been a year of historical films, films that take what we think we know of history (a lot, in the case of "Lincoln", very little in the case of "Argo") and re-tell it to us.  They give us new avenues through which to appreciate the actions, decisions and challenges that faced our forbears.  They re-define how we see politics, and how we understand our role in the world.

That's a big responsibility for a storyteller to bear, and some carry it with more grace than others.  But it's humbling to note that in the end, it's not the most accurate history, but the best told story that survives.


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