“Where do you wanna go?”

Those are the last words of Zero Dark Thirty, which, thankfully, is not as patriotic as you might fear. (Spoilers.) Don’t get me wrong: it perpetuates the post-9/11 version of the (Cold War) US myth of the CIA (or torture) as a necessary evil. (From a radical perspective, this is, still, a symptom of the film otherwise erasing the existence of US imperialism.) But at the same time, its position on the 9/11 era is a question: “well, Usama’s dead, [did you know that that’s how the US government spells his name now? I didn’t] it’s over. What now? Was it worth it?” I don’t know what the movie’s answer to those questions are, and I also don’t care.

Zero Dark Thirty‘s basic message on the war on terror (a phrase that I don’t think is ever uttered in the film) is that it was a quest for vengeance. Is any quest for vengeance worth it? Hard to say. Certainly some are better than others. I, for one, would much rather get vengeance on, to use bell hooks’ formulation, white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. (ZDT might agree. None of the dozen-or-so characters the film is about are the one who actually kills Bin Laden, who in the film is frankly portrayed as a mindless soldier, for what that’s worth.) But anyway.

Bin Laden is dead. Did that make up for the murder of 3,000 New Yorkers on September 11th, 2001? Probably not. Did that prevent a similar number of innocent citizens (not just in the US) being killed sometime in the future? Hard to say. But isn’t that the point? That to let foreign policy be shaped by Evil Villains is to ourselves be turned into such? When was the last time US foreign policy wasn’t shaped in such a way? I don’t know, but certainly before the Nazis, if not Communism.

I suppose this is the point at which to say that I myself am a communist. I’m not sure what exactly the lower-case of that “c” means, but it certainly means I am not the sort of Marxist-Leninist(-Maoist) that US anti-communism caricatures. It certainly means that I’m an anti-capitalist. (If you think that capitalism has anything to do with freedom aside from the freedom to exploit and the “freedom” to be exploited, you’re not gonna like this blog.) On that score, one scene from ZDT is worth drawing attention to. It’s about a third of the way through the film (so probably set in about 2004-6), between Maya (the main character, played by Jessica Chastain) and Jessica (Maya’s best friend, played by Jessica Ehle; she dies later on in the 2009 Camp Chapman attack, basically becoming Maya’s 9/11-to-be-avenged). They’re either talking about, or talking about both, whether torture is moral, and/or, whether “detainees” can be bought off. Specifically, “whether ‘detainees’ can be bought off” is presented as a subvariant of the question “can anyone be bought off?” Maya gives a very precise answer to this: no, “radicals” can’t. Radicals, you say?

The root meaning of “radical” is the Latin word for “root,” and in English it has a peculiar double meaning, both political. On the one hand, to be a radical is to be consumed (through to the root of one’s being, one could say) by a cause. On the other, to be a radical is to believe that one’s society, or, society as such, needs to be fundamentally changed (changed “at the root,” as I hope no one has ever put it). (It’s worth noting that the second sense is often conflated by non-radicals with the desire to destroy one’s society.) This scene, where Maya uses the word “radicals” to describe people in both of these senses, is the closest ZDT comes to real political ideology, aside from the final scene. After all is said and done, Maya climbs onto a military cargo ship, by herself. The pilot asks her the question that titles this post. The final shot is her crying, in front of white criss-crossed netting above a red backdrop, while wearing a blue shirt.

I don’t really care about the flag (or burning it). But Zero Dark Thirty at least ends on the right note: where do you wanna go, o US of A? Has building your empire been worth it? Or shall we put an end to US imperialism, along with all the other struggles and antagonisms riving our society? That’s the first question: “where do you wanna go?”


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