When my father pulled me out of class on the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001, I had just finished the second Harry Potter novel and was excited about going home so I could start the third immediately.
As the words “terrorist” “attack” “center” “everything” “is” “going” “to” “be” “ok” flowed out of his mouth, followed by a hug, I felt comforted instantly and went back to dreaming about flying brooms, Quidditch and what house the Sorting Hat would place me in.
With a childlike sensibility guarding my awareness and understanding of just what was happening that day, I was affected by the images we watched on television that night but could not form a context in my mind (a problem for adults as well) to properly realize the gravity of the situation.
Over the past 10 years, 9/11 has affected our worldview so much that our generation doesn’t know how to evaluate the world without the threat of terrorism.
Movies like “World Trade Center,” “United 93” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” have tried to contextualize 9/11, usually accompanied by sentimental antics, and never hit the nerve that differentiates in the mind what we see on the news or an ABC special report from one of these films.
Many of these movies came out too soon with not enough hindsight, the exception possibly being “United 93,” yet even it felt wrought over at a time when the nation was still early in its healing process if it can even be described as such.
With Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty,” the masterly new film about the 10-year long search for Osama Bin Laden, it seems to have somehow found a way to not be affected by the lack of passage of time. It may even be better for it.
Much more than just a film about trying to find Osama bin Laden, “Zero Dark Thirty” delves into the psychology of the age of terrorism with objectivity and nuance and may be the best 9/11 film to date.
The film opens not with images of 9/11 but a black screen and sounds. The voices of those on the planes, those trapped in the building calling emergency rescue asking, “Am I going to die?” set the disturbing tone that carries throughout the film.
Then like a tightly plotted timeline, we follow the events over the next 10 years that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden by Navy Seals in April of 2011.
“Zero Dark Thirty” is almost reportorial in its construction, an investigative drama of sorts, that I can compare to no other because I have seen nothing like it before.
Maya (played by Jessica Chastain who will probably go home with Oscar gold next month) is a CIA officer who specializes in al-Qaeda related intelligence and is brought in to the U.S. embassy in Pakistan to help in the search for bin Laden.
Through intense torture sequences of terrorists for information (of which many U.S. officials are saying is not accurate, yet supposedly Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal obtained classified documents from the CIA they based the film on) and years of information that leads nowhere, we are pulled into Maya’s desperation to find the man responsible for the attacks.
As the terrorist attacks continue to happen around the world, it becomes a race against the clock situation for Maya who nearly takes on the task of capturing bin Laden herself.
The tension is so taut and filmic that it is hard to believe while watching that “Zero Dark Thirty” is in fact a work of non-fiction.
The sequence at the end of the film when Navy Seals raid the compound where bin Laden is revealed to be hiding in Pakistan is one of the most gripping and tension-filled scenes that has ever been produced.
Through Maya and other CIA officers, we see people who just like ourselves are trying to come to terms with the way the world has turned out, yet it is their job to stop it.
“Zero Dark Thirty” comes the closest to depicting not only the events of 9/11, but the emotions that have persisted after that fateful day.
It may be the quickest turnaround when it comes to the gap of time between event and movie, but in the case of “Zero Dark Thirty” it just feels right.
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