Zero Dark Thirty Opening Scene

The opening scene of Zero Dark Thirty has been the subject of much controversy. The family members of those killed during 9/11 heavily objected to the film’s use of their loved one’s voice messages. Many Film critics and audience members alike also had complaints regarding the torture scene that takes place after these recorded messages. Was the film making a statement about the necessity of torture? Why would the film cut from these heart-wrenching recordings of Americans dying to then show a supposed Muslim terrorist being tortured and humiliated? What is the filmmaker trying to convey with these two juxtaposed scenes?

Opening Phone Calls

The film opens to a dark blank screen, the audience can overhear phone recordings from one of the most horrific days in American history, 9/11. One of the more shocking recordings is from a man who was in the world trade center. You can hear the tower collapsing while he is still on his phone as he shouts “Oh god, Oh!” There are numerous other recordings from others who are saying their last goodbyes to their families or are moments away from death.

Opening Torture Scene

The film cuts from the blank screen to show a battered and bruised man in a dark room, surrounded by several men with black beanies over their faces. This occurs two years after the events of 9/11. The men with beanies proceed to push and mock the accused terrorist, tying his hands and legs to the ceiling with rope. For a few brief minutes, a dialogue ensues between an unmasked leader of the group and the terrorist. He is trying to get information from the terrorist diplomatically it seems. When the terrorist refuses to answer any of the questions he is waterboarded.

Analysis of the Opening scene of Zero Dark Thirty

The misery and the obvious defeat of the terrorist are hard to watch during the torture scene. A human being is relegated to being a caged animal. Where is the audiences sympathy’s supposed to lie? Who are the heroes in this film? Who are the villains? This is something you expect to be established in a large Hollywood movie but for the film’s own good they are not. While some critics have called this scene pro-torture propaganda I tend to disagree. The opening of the phone calls juxtaposed with the torture scene conveys a powerful message and establishes the overall tone and theme of the film. The central question being “does the end justify the means”. Is it ok to torture our enemy when they were responsible for the death of 3,000 Americans? Is it ok to torture people that could provide information regarding future terrorist attacks? This is something the audience member has to constantly ask themself throughout this film.

What is the meaning of Zero Dark Thirty?

The meaning of Zero Dark Thirty is to make American audiences uncomfortable with their government’s behavior. Is torture acceptable? Are these the values our society holds? When did this behavior become acceptable? Those expecting a kick-ass American movie of war-heroes hunting down and killing Bin Laden did not get the movie they expected. This is not American Sniper.