A Brief Remark on Zero Dark Thirty « The Pinocchio Theory

Zero Dark Thirty is the ne plus ultra of proceduralism, its ultimate expansion and reductio ad absurdum. It’s all about the well-nigh interminable process of searching for, and then eliminating, Osama Bin Laden. The premise and initial impetus of this process is of course the mythological demonization of Bin Laden, as the ultimate culprit responsible for Nine Eleven. But in the relentless proceduralism that the film presents to us, this goal or rationale is abraded away. The torture which the film has become controversial for depicting is of course part of this. But so is the process of painstakingly correlating irrelevant information, the accidental discovery of leads in years-old records, the repetitive tracking of the vehicle of the suspected courier, the endless bureaucratic meetings at which officials seek to decide if the information is valid and what should be done about it, and above all the military operation in the last thirty minutes of the film (has military action ever been depicted in the movies with such relentless a focus on operational techniques, in a manner that is utterly devoid alike of the horror of war and of the glory and heroism that are so often invoked to justify it?). The goal has been so absorbed into procedural routine that the ostensible climax of the film, the actual killing of Bin Laden, occurs offscreen; and we barely even get a glimpse of the corpse, zipped as it is into a body bag, which is to say treated entirely (and literally) according to Standard Operating Procedure.

A Brief Remark on Zero Dark Thirty « The Pinocchio Theory