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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Zero Dark Thirty

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


U.S. Navy SEALs are portrayed in a scene from the movie "Zero Dark Thirty."
"Zero Dark Thirty" (Columbia) offers moviegoers a challenging account, based on real events, of the decade-long hunt for terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.

This gritty glimpse into the underworld of acknowledged detention centers and concealed prisons, known as "black sites," raises ethical quandaries and presents content that will prove unsettling even for many adults.

The action centers on a relentlessly determined CIA officer named Maya (Jessica Chastain). Urged on by her superiors, one of whom demands that she "bring me people to kill," Maya painstakingly gathers intelligence hints concerning bin Laden's whereabouts and those of his confederates.

Eventually she weaves these slender strands of evidence together sufficiently to track America's public enemy number one to his fortified compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. There, as enacted in the film's climax, Navy SEALs killed him in May 2011.

Some of Maya's leads are obtained by her colleague Dan (Jason Clarke), who employs both physical and psychological torture to break down the prisoners he interrogates. His techniques include water-boarding, a process that simulates the effects of drowning, close confinement and various forms of humiliation.

While director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal have crafted a compelling drama, their movie's moral stance is ambiguous. The harsh reality of so-called "enhanced interrogation," as practiced by Dan, is graphically portrayed. Yet the results of subjecting prisoners to it are shown to be effective.

Viewers will need a strong grounding in their faith to discern the proper balance between the imperative of upholding human dignity and the equally grave obligation to save innocent human lives. They will also need to guard against the temptation to revel in the death of an evildoer.

As God asks the prophet Ezekiel, "Do I find pleasure in the death of the wicked—oracle of the Lord God? Do I not rejoice when they turn from their evil way and live?" (Ez. 18:23)

In keeping with the tough-guy tone of the spying and soldiering worlds in which "Zero Dark Thirty" is set, moreover, the dialogue involves a steady assault with F-bombs and other vulgarities.

The film contains considerable violence, including scenes of torture and degradation, brief rear nudity, at least one use of profanity as well as frequent rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L—limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

*****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.



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Augustine of Hippo: A Christian at 33, a priest at 36, a bishop at 41: Many people are familiar with the biographical sketch of Augustine of Hippo, sinner turned saint. But really to get to know the man is a rewarding experience. 
<p>There quickly surfaces the intensity with which he lived his life, whether his path led away from or toward God. The tears of his mother (August 27), the instructions of Ambrose (December 7) and, most of all, God himself speaking to him in the Scriptures redirected Augustine’s love of life to a life of love. </p><p>Having been so deeply immersed in creature-pride of life in his early days and having drunk deeply of its bitter dregs, it is not surprising that Augustine should have turned, with a holy fierceness, against the many demon-thrusts rampant in his day. His times were truly decadent—politically, socially, morally. He was both feared and loved, like the Master. The perennial criticism leveled against him: a fundamental rigorism. </p><p>In his day, he providentially fulfilled the office of prophet. Like Jeremiah and other greats, he was hard-pressed but could not keep quiet. “I say to myself, I will not mention him,/I will speak in his name no more./But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,/imprisoned in my bones;/I grow weary holding it in,/I cannot endure it” (Jeremiah 20:9).</p> American Catholic Blog Silence is the ability to trust that God is acting, teaching, and using me—even before I perform or after my seeming failures. Silence is the necessary space around things that allows them to develop and flourish without my pushing. God takes it from there.

 
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