Based in St. Cloud, Minnesota, Growing in Grace is a blog by Pastor Matthew Molesky. His posts explore the Bible, theology, ecclesiology, culture, books, family, and life.

Zero Dark Thirty

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zero-dark-thirty1 My oldest son and I used our "hang-out" time one week a while back to take in this controversial movie. In a recent article, Mike Cosper, worship leader at Sojourn Church in Louisville, KY, provides an excellent review. He writes:

Today, Zero Dark Thirty will be released on DVD. The film has received a great deal of press both for its technical excellence and also its controversial subject matter. It presents an interesting case study in the challenges and ethics of storytelling. Starring Jessica Chastain, the movie tells the story of Maya, a CIA agent who gathered the intelligence that led to finding and killing Osama bin Laden.

Kathryn Bigelow masterfully directed the film, and it's hard to argue with any of the accolades the movie has received. She tells a story that is fundamentally about intelligence gathering, interrogations, data analysis, and political red tape inside the CIA , and she does so in a way that keeps the viewers at the edge of their seats. When the story comes to the day when the mission was carried out, Bigelow tells it carefully, with intensity and energy, but without the hype of a Hollywood action film. In fact, it's quite the opposite; far from being about American triumphalism, most of the film chronicles dead ends and frustrations in the CIA.

Cosper isn't afraid to address the disturbing scenes in the movie that address torture - such as waterboarding - and if the means of such practices justify the ends of finding Bin Laden:

As we watch the movie, we ask, Where is the congruity between waterboarding and the conviction that men and women are made in the image of God? How does one reconcile the call to "bless those who curse you" and the need for "enhanced interrogations"?

In the film, the interrogations reveal an evidential thread that Maya traces (over many years) back to bin Laden, and the political controversy arises from that particular plot point. Senators Dianne Feinstein, John McCain, and Carl Levin have all appealed to Sony Pictures to consider reworking the movie to remove any indications that torture led to finding bin Laden.

But Bigelow argues otherwise. In a letter to the Los Angeles Times, she said,

Experts disagree sharply on the facts and particulars of the intelligence hunt, and doubtlessly that debate will continue. As for what I personally believe, which has been the subject of inquiries, accusations and speculation, I think Osama bin Laden was found due to ingenious detective work. Torture was, however, as we all know, employed in the early years of the hunt. That doesn't mean it was the key to finding bin Laden. It means it is a part of the story we couldn't ignore. War, obviously, isn't pretty, and we were not interested in portraying this military action as free of moral consequences.

Surrounded as we are by movies clamoring for our attention, and intelligent questions about wether such fare is worthy of our time as citizens of another kingdom, Cosper concludes:

In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Dr. Jones is seen lecturing his students, saying that archeology is concerned with fact, not truth; if they want truth, they should go down the hall to a philosophy class. I think, in a sense, Bigelow seeks the opposite. She wanted to make a piece of art concerned with truth over facts. She tells a story that allows the viewer to experience the essence of the hunt for bin Laden, an ugly memory of its emotional core. It's often the nature of art to strike at affections more than intellect, and this is what I believe makes Bigelow's film so effective and important: when we finish watching, we know in our gut the darkness and sadness of this quest.

This movie should disturb Christian consciences. Because it isn't merely Maya's story; it's our story.

I recommend you take the time to read Mr. Cosper's review in its entirety. It is an excellent example of engaging a product of our culture from a Christian worldview.

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