Michael Moore on “Zero Dark Thirty”

31 January 2013

I’m still wrangling with this statement, which I find both fascinating and possibly not quite right — so I thought I’d end my latest dry spell by crowd-sourcing it here.

Michael Moore, the activist filmmaker and writer, recently issued a strong defense of Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty and rejected the notion that it explicitly or implicitly endorses torture; moreover, he went on to say:

‘Zero Dark Thirty’ – a movie made by a woman (Kathryn Bigelow), produced by a woman (Megan Ellison), distributed by a woman (Amy Pascal, the co-chairman of Sony Pictures), and starring a woman (Jessica Chastain) is really about how an agency of mostly men are dismissive of a woman who is on the right path to finding bin Laden. Yes, guys, this is a movie about how we don’t listen to women, how hard it is for them to have their voice heard even in these enlightened times. You could say this is a 21st century chick flick – and it would do you well to see it.

You see? Fascinating.

12 Responses to “Michael Moore on “Zero Dark Thirty””

  1. JustMeMike Says:

    Aside from the last 9 words – this is a standard Michael Moore gambit. It is less about kathryn Bigelow, her professional female colleagues, and the character of Maya than it is about Mr. Moore himself

    Had the Maya character been portrayed as a male character, the film would have been just as intense and provocative even though It wouldn’t have been exactly the same film.

    Mr. Moore has never been afraid of being outrageous in order to create a photo op or media event. .

    • Didion Says:

      But JMM, setting aside Moore himself, weren’t you at all surprised to consider that this question of Maya not being listened to was perhaps part of the story? Surely her gender was significant to the film overall; it’s not a primary subject as perhaps Moore wants to suggest here, but it’s important nevertheless. Her relationships with her male and female colleagues alike are inflected by gender throughout (i.e., the Jennifer Ehle character recommending that she sleep with the Jason Clarke character). I disagree with Moore insofar as his emphasis, but not the meat of his comment. I’m only surprised that those final scenes before the CIA higher-ups commit to the operation didn’t strike me the way they did him.

  2. Hattie Says:

    I don’t really agree with the previous comment. Michael Moore does not have to work very hard to get all the publicity he wants.
    The fact is I couldn’t bear to watch a movie that starts out with 1/2 hour of someone being tortured, with the Dolby sound and full sized screen. I might try watching it later in small format.

    • Didion Says:

      Fair enough! And the torture is pretty gritty; it manages to feel disturbingly realistic, not like movie torture at all. Which somehow makes it worse.

      And I’m enough of a fan of Moore’s — and disturbed by the way he’s a lightning rod for the right — that I don’t think he’s being overly provocative here.

  3. FD Says:

    I think Moore is not at all self-serving here. People who don’t listen to women would do well to see this film. That’s enough insight (and potential conflict) for a great movie. And a pretty good history lesson.

  4. Ruth Shehigian Says:

    I think anyone who tries to continue the conversation about gender and gender roles in our untrue deserves a standing ovation. Bravo. Women n lim are so often depicted as side kick or anomaly. Having someone as well respected as Moore point this out, even as he sounds a bit condescending, can only help te cause. As for his desire for publicity, plead, who in Hollywood does not share that. At least his causes are good and insights thoughtful if controversial.

    • Didion Says:

      I’m with you, Ruth. I quite like Moore’s films; and in this case I was surprised to find him making such a nice, succinct comment that hadn’t occurred to me, as I feel like I’m pretty sensitive to this kind of analysis!

  5. Ruth Shehigian Says:

    Culture ….. Not “untrue”

  6. Servetus Says:


  7. tam Says:

    This might be sacrilegious, but in the crazy brouhaha that’s surrounded the whole torture debate about ZD30, I have a few things to say:

    1) As this film is based on actual events, I think it would have been disingenuous to avoid torture as part of the narrative.

    2) Remember that this film was already in the works long before the killing of Bin Laden. I suspect the torture scenes were already in the script before the so-called “success” of the mission.

    3) And I don’t think the film portrayed torture as instrumental to the discovery of the whereabouts of Bin Laden.

    And yes, I was intrigued by the film because of the central female character, and I agree with Moore, that it does demonstrate the difficulty women still have to be taken seriously. And I would go further and say that a film based on these same facts would probably look quite different if it had been directed by a man.

    For one thing, I experienced the guy who was tortured as a three dimensional human being, who I had empathy for. This was likely the first time I’ve connected with a so-called “villain” in a movie. And *that* is the genius of Katherine Bigelow.

    • Didion Says:

      I agree, Tam — about the portrayals of torture in particular. I’ve been mulling this over quite a bit lately, particularly after hearing far too many uninformed people calling for boycotts of the film because it doesn’t denounce torture (or worse, because someone, somewhere, found that the film “made him hate Muslims,” truly one of kookiest criticisms I’ve heard). I agree with Bigelow and Boal in arguing that representing something onscreen doesn’t amount to endorsement. And you’re exactly right that the CIA agents don’t get crucial information. (And wasn’t the CIA torturer a vivid character!)

      And on the second bit: I was surprised, on reading Moore’s comments, to consider this insight to be a surprise. The film deals with the subject of Maya’s “girlness” — she’s always “the girl” to her male superiors — so explicitly and throughout the film that I’m surprised I didn’t come up with that sentence myself. I think it’s a testament to Bigelow’s filmmaking, actually, that the feminist interpretation of the film isn’t the first thing that occurs to viewers, particularly during the scenes when Maya’s trying to get her superiors to act on her intelligence. By that time, we’ve so thoroughly ceased thinking of her as “the girl” that we’re more exasperated by the slow-moving CIA bureaucracy.

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