“So . . . @annhornaday making Zero Dark Thirty her #1 movie of the year makes her support torture and overall evil,” read a message that appeared on my Twitter feed this week, while my e-mail inbox filled with offers to interview think-tankers and other experts on torture (who haven’t seen the movie). On the MSNBC show “Hardball,” host Chris Matthews asked New York film critic David Edelstein whether terrorism can be defeated by “playing by gentlemanly rules.” Edelstein hesitated. “You’re asking a film critic?” he inquired incredulously.
Well, yes. With “Zero Dark Thirty,” a medium that has always occupied a liminal space — between art and entertainment, realism and spectacle, history and myth — has been pushed into yet one more indeterminate category, straddling journalism and drama. And it’s asking viewers to develop a new set of standards by which to judge and process what’s on-screen — not just in terms of aesthetic, moral and entertainment values, but as a means of processing events we haven’t fully come to terms with, offering perhaps the first unifying narrative of a deeply contentious period.