The Year in Film: 2012’s Biggest Movie Controversies

Zero Dark Thirty and Torture

You gotta give Kathryn Bigelow’s movie this much: it’s an equal opportunity faux-offender. Early in the year, right-wing critics were up in arms — first over the filmmakers’ alleged access to “inside information” by the Obama administration, then claiming that the film would serve as some sort of de facto campaign ad, reminding voters of the administration’s triumph on election eve. (Never mind that the movie wasn’t coming out until well after November 6th.) Then, as Zero Dark Thirty began to unspool in media and guild screenings earlier this month, it was hit from the left. The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald led the charge, his headline labeling “torture-glorifying” a film that, eight paragraphs in, he admitted to not having seen. (That didn’t stop him from comparing Bigelow to Leni Reifenstahl.) Andrew Sullivan initially joined in, though (to his credit), he did see the film and set the record straight, correctly breaking down the complex moral and legal ambiguities of this challenging and brilliant film where, as Pauline Kael wrote of Bonnie and Clyde lo those many years ago, audiences “are made to feel but are not told how to feel.” Greenwald finally bothered to see it as well, but instead dug in further, this time comparing Bigelow to a Klansman. Not much for nuance, that one. And then Senators McCain, Feinstein, and Levin decided to get in on it too, which was totally cool; it’s not like they had anything else to focus on.