It’s the perfect Hollywood plot: “the story of history’s greatest manhunt for the world’s most dangerous man.” You couldn’t ask for a more sinister villain — Osama bin Laden, the man responsible for history’s worst terrorist attack on the American people. And even before its release, controversy surrounded the film. Does the movie take a pro-torture stance? (Director Kathryn Bigelow responded to these accusations for the first time this week.) Did the filmmakers have access to classified materials during their research of the film? Is it a docu-drama or a work of fiction? Hollywood loves this type of publicity because it draws attention to a film and helps sell the story. It certainly piqued my interest and I was curious to see how the filmmakers interpreted the real life drama for the big screen.
Zero Dark Thirty did not disappoint. Look, we all know the ending. Bin Laden is killed. Yet I was on the edge of my seat the entire movie, along with the rest of the audience. You could hear a pin drop in the theater. I was expecting a Hollywood action thriller, and those elements were there, but what took me by surprise was the underlying story of faith and perseverance.
Maya, the film’s protagonist played by Jessica Chastain, who won a Golden Globe for her performance, has spent her career as a young CIA agent gathering intelligence related to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. A detainee reveals the name of a man working as a personal courier for bin Laden. For nine years, Maya follows this lead, unearthing any information she can find, often putting herself in danger’s way and losing friends and colleagues to violence. For nine years Maya is steadfast in her belief that this man will lead her to bin Laden; she doesn’t give up even when other CIA intelligence suggests otherwise.
I was moved by her determination and commitment to her mission, even when those around her lost faith. It would have been easy to give up and walk away, let someone else take a turn. But she doesn’t and it’s Maya’s work that leads to the discovery of bin Laden’s Pakistani compound.
How many times in our own lives do we let doubts cloud what we believe? It might be easy to go along with everyone else instead of standing up and speaking out for what we have faith in. The naysayers and the nagging questions at the back of our own minds are a reality. Our response to them is what strengthens faith.
There is a great scene in the movie when Maya’s bosses assess there is a 60% chance that bin Laden is living at the compound. The CIA director asks Maya her opinion and she confidently states the chances are 100%, never second-guessing herself. The raid is ordered and the rest is history.
Besides detailing the greatest “pursuit” in history, Zero Dark Thirty shows us how one person’s beliefs and commitment to an idea can make a difference. That’s the thing about faith — it’s stronger than the doubts of others and even your own doubts. Truly believing in something gives you the strength to stand up to the doubters. That’s what stayed with me after seeing the film. And while the debates continue about torture and the morality of pursuing the death of one’s enemies, I hope that we can also see Zero Dark Thirty as a story of one woman’s unwavering faith in the face of others’ doubts and uncertainties.