Film, whether big-screen or TV, is a powerful medium of representation; it has the power to define. And with this controversy, Society pushed back and said we do not like how this film represents or defines us.
The controversy and shortcomings of Zero Dark Thirty has opened a critical conversation and debate. Hopefully it will lead to brave new Hollywood storytelling about these years when America went in search of monsters to destroy, and ended up slaying things once held dear.
Given that the torture scenes are so repulsive, but shown nonetheless, it is clearly Bigelow's goal to make us never forget the horror and demeaning nature of torture both for the victim and for the torturers.
Torture has no place in a civilized society. No matter the success or means to achieve a good end, torture (or as some leaders referred to it, enhanced interrogation techniques) reflects our darkest impulses and pulls all of us in this democracy to a dark place.
That really should be the main takeaway from Zero Dark Thirty: That good detective work can bring fruitful results -- and that torture is wrong. Eight years of torture -- no bin Laden. Two years of detective work -- boom! Bin Laden!
This widespread inability to see anything in the film but the subject of torture blinds us to the greater complexities it brings to the big screen and, as a result, to the question it raises in the big picture of American life after catching our breath from the chase the film depicts.