By Darrell Gwaltney
When my now adult daughter was in middle school, we would listen to NPR together on the way to school. We heard the first confusing reports on the radio together.
I dropped her off at school and arrived in my office when the second plane hit the south tower.
As a pastor of a local church in south Florida with a church member who was a flight attendant for American and flew out of Boston, others who were police officers and firefighters and many church members with family in New York, the day we now refer to simply as “9/11″ has long been seared in my memory.
Sitting down for Zero Dark Thirty opened the floodgates for all those memories.
Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty takes the viewer behind the scenes of the war on terror and the hunt for Osama bin Laden. The film follows a young female CIA agent name “Maya” in her pursuit of information that would lead to bin Laden.
The film begins with a black screen and 911 calls to emergency operators. It is hard to describe how painful they were to hear. Moving from the black screen to the searing sun of a CIA detention site, the viewer becomes confronted with the reality of techniques used to gain information from captured terrorists.
Zero Dark Thirty is claustrophobic in its focus on a few individuals who pursued bin Laden with ferocious intensity. It is terrifying in its display of CIA trade craft. Most of all, it is mournful.
This is, after all, a film that portrays the most powerful nation on earth using all of its resources to search for one human being. No surprise ending awaits. This film is funereal. It is a lament.
Second Samuel 1:1-27 recounts an ancient story from the Old Testament. King Saul has died in battle and his opponent and heir-apparent must respond. David’s lament prevents rejoicing by their enemies, calls attention to the place of Saul’s death, lifts up Saul and his son, Jonathan, and ends with this refrain: “How the mighty have fallen in the midst of battle!” (v. 25)
For nearly 10 years between 9/11 and the day bin Laden was killed, this nation has lamented the losses in the war on terror. We have worked not to give terrorists reasons to rejoice. We have memorialized the places where lives were lost. We have lifted up those we know who have fallen in the fight.
We have remembered the mighty who have fallen in battle.
For years, though, this nation had no resolution. All of our combined resources could not capture bin Laden. Our advances on the war on terror have had a frustrating sense of ebb and flow.
When the news broke that bin Laden was dead, some people celebrated in the streets, a kind of visceral release of 10 years of pain and sorrow and hunger for revenge. Yet, there was a hollowness to it because there was no way to memorialize it beyond watching the news or celebrating in the streets.
A funeral presents the opportunity to walk before the casket and view the deceased. Zero Dark Thirty tactfully provides the opportunity for the American public to see the subsequent remains of the national obsession for 10 years. It provides some closure.
Zero Dark Thirty is a visceral lament upon a decade of conflict and pursuit of one who caused this nation so much pain. Viewing the film creates an opportunity for people to gather communally and remember, grieve and have closure.
Before the film started the theater was eerily quiet. With the first black screen to the torture scenes to the CIA agents’ attempts to find bin Laden to the eventual attack, the viewer experiences waves of emotions.
When the film ended no one moved, there was silence except for one furtive clap, and then we all silently made our way out of the theater.