The Mystery Woman at the Heart of 'Zero Dark Thirty'

The Mystery Woman at the Heart of 'Zero Dark Thirty'

Nov 28, 2012

Note: Below you'll find my brief thoughts on Zero Dark Thirty following a screening I attended yesterday. There are minor spoilers included in here.

Spoiler alert: Kathryn Bigelow has done it again.

Zero Dark Thirty is every bit as intense as The Hurt Locker, chock-full of those addictive edge-of-your-seat moments Kathryn Bigelow is quickly becoming known for. Sure, we know the ending, and have some knowledge of how Osama bin Laden -- the world's most sought-after terrorist leader -- was killed while hiding out in Pakistan, but there's a lot more to the story. Zero Dark Thirty unravels many of the twisted wires leading to what really happened, introducing those who were at the very center of that search for bin Laden -- including a gutsy female CIA agent who painstakingly held her ground on a small, fairly insignificant years-old tip that would eventually lead straight to the man responsible for the 9/11 attacks.

Jessica Chastain plays this CIA agent, named Maya in the film, and aside from one or two tiny facts (like how she was recruited out of high school by the CIA), we learn nothing about her. She's cold and calculated, and after dedicating every ounce of herself to finding Osama bin Laden over the course of 10 years with nothing but dead coworkers to show for it, she's f**king pissed.

Here's a taste of the rage that builds inside of her, courtesy of the film's first released clip. [via Yahoo]

Because we learn so little about her during the film, it's suggested this "Maya" didn't really exist, and that she's actually just some amalgamation of several CIA agents who were at the heart of the search. However, a new interview over at Nightline proves that's not the case. According to Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal, she's real, and it was this "stunning" discovery that set the wheels in motion for the entire movie.
"I was blown away when I realized, at the heart of this hunt., was this young woman who had a kind of tenacity and a dedication and a courage," Bigelow told ABC in the video below. "She would never say no."

What's refreshing about Zero Dark Thirty is just how honest and ballsy it is. Bigelow and Boal forego Hollywood melodrama in exchange for telling this story as accurately as they can without letting emotions get in the way. Some people may be turned off by that. Some people may want a husband or a boyfriend or a worried parent leaving concerned voicemails from the other side of the world -- something that connects them to Maya and explains how a person can devote so much of themselves to one cause. We never get those answers, and it's what makes the movie better.

Like Maya, Bigelow and Boal make gutsy, unpredictable decisions when it comes to portraying the real people involved in taking down Osama bin Laden, and it pays off in that it brings you closer to the story. In a weird way, the lack of that connective tissue to the real world actually makes the film more personal and emotional for the audience. From those first minutes -- in which we hear frantic phone calls from 9/11 victims in the seconds before losing their lives over a black screen -- the movie hooks you. It digs deep into those 9/11 wounds we all have -- those unsettling memories of that day -- and then it pretty blatantly says, "Now here's how we found the motherf**ker responsible for all this." 

And I don't use the word "motherf**ker" as a way to shock you; I use it because it's an important word in this film. It's a sign of strength, of conviction, of satisfaction -- and it comes at a time when we desperately need something (anything!) to slice through the ridiculous amount of uncomfortable tension the filmmakers so expertly build throughout. 

That tension is built around a lot of familiar names (Kyle Chandler, Joel Edgerton, Mark Duplass, Mark Strong, Chris Pratt, James Gandolfini), but you never see any movie stars. Yes, Chastain owns the hell out of every minute she's on-screen, and she'll probably walk away with an award at some point, but this story is so much bigger than any one person, and it's a point the film drills home.

It's fascinating to learn more about those directly involved in finding Osama bin Laden -- and maybe one day the real Maya will retire and introduce herself to the world -- but I don't need to know who she really is, and neither do you. For many, it's about closure. And for those who need more than closure, Zero Dark Thirty gives you the cut-and-dry, no-holds-barred version of what went down and who the key players were. There's not really a happy ending, and it's definitely not the feel-good movie of the holiday season, but it's the truth. It tells it like it is. 

You have to respect that about the movie. I do.



Follow along on Twitter @ErikDavis and @Moviesdotcom.


Categories: Features, Reviews
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