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MARCH 4, 2013


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Zero Dark Thirty: Powerful Fiction but Questionable Journalism

By Christopher Katrakis

Following in the footsteps of her hugely successful film The Hurt Locker, director Kathryn Bigelow’s latest film, Zero Dark Thirty, made with screenwriter Mark Boal, was released with much critical acclaim. An impressive weaving of truth and fiction, it presents a compelling drama, positioning itself as the definitive, true narrative surrounding the hunt for Usama bin Laden and the raid that eventually killed him. As a movie in the most mechanical sense, ZD30 is great: strong acting, especially from Jessica Chastain’s lead character Maya, an appropriately minimal but complementary soundtrack, and a chilling cinematography that is in many ways documentary-like. The greatest aesthetic complaint is with the transitioning chapter titles (such as “Human Error” and “Tradecraft”), which add nothing and, in a sort of trivializing/condescending way, took away from the experience. Leading us from 9/11 up to the successful raid on Usama’s Abottabad compound, the drama keeps us bound to our seats as firmly as Maya is obsessively and zealously bound to the hunt. Yet the narrow focus on the hunt—consistent with the attempt at creating a “reported film,”—leaves out

the sort of background and character development that would be expected in a typical thriller. Perhaps, in this sort of context, the audience is not supposed to wonder why Maya has come to work for the CIA, what motivates her, and how she feels about torture. The film offers few clues as to the woman behind the machine, and the hints that are dropped are ambiguous: does Maya cry because her sole mission in life is over, and she is now directionless, or is this the inevitable human reaction to being a part of something so terrible, yet important? Are these feelings of regret and anger, or sadness and grief ? It is notable how much reaction to the film, with its vague emotional narrative lurking behind a clear and focused plot, will be very conditioned by what the viewer brings to the screen. While interpretation is critical to all experience, especially artistic experience, the lack of character depth makes it easy to add our various extrapolations onto the characters and the film.

However powerful the film may be in its own right, it runs into problems when considered in its greater context, a context that begins with the film’s opening statement: “Based on Firsthand Accounts of Actual Events”. Trumpeted by Bigelow in The New Yorker as “almost a

journalistic approach to film,” with assurances from Boal that “I don’t want to play fast and loose with history,” the stories have changed in response to the criticism of the film’s depiction of torture; now, both Bigelow and Boal have been emphasizing that “depiction is not endorsement.” However, few critics (critic and philosopher Slavoj Zizek is a notable exception) are making this argument—most argue that the way in which torture is depicted is untrue and damaging, by suggesting that tor-

Kid A, Radiohead’s Modern Masterpiece

(Cont. from, Radiohead’s Kid A... ,Page 4)

low to understand, and the slippery guitars come back in, but something’s definitely wrong, and the whole song I normally hate this kind of music, keeps getting louder but this time but by providing loads of hooks and the build up isn’t pretty, it’s creepy! layers of textures, Radiohead takes It builds and builds to a climax, but an obscure genre of music and makes instead of releasing the tension, Rait accessible. I like that. It’s what the diohead ends it on a final dialogue Beatles did. between the bass and synth that hangs “Idioteque” ends with electronic in the air and fades. The ending is so screeching that sounds like an injured intense I’ve caught myself holding my demon screeching in pain from a dis- breath. tance, as if from the end of a long They should have ended the album sterile hospital hallway. A catchy beat there. “Motion Picture Soundtrack” enters, then the screeches are replaced is an okay song, but it’s not as high by electronic chords, and thus “Morn- quality as the others, and it also feels ing Bell,” my like it belongs favorite track on The Bends or on the album O.K. Computer. begins. Tracks 6 No matter. It’s and 7 strengthstill one of the ened one angreatest albums other by flowing ever, even if it smoothly into isn’t perfect. one another; The last point but “Idioteque” I’d like to make and “Morning is Kid A defies Bell” strengthcategorization. en each other Is this Art Rock? by contrasting Ava n t g a r d e ? with one anothElectronica? er. The warm, I decided that round, welcomthese were all ing chords of emotional, me“Morning Bell” lodic pop-songs provide the exwith layers and Thom Yorke, lead man o f Radiohead layers of weirdact opposite texand Gollum impersonator. ness and catture to the jagged lines of “Idiotegorized the eque.” It feels as if the whole album album in my head as Avant-Pop, but has been relentlessly chilling, and the there are many different way to listen. first half of “Morning Bell” releases That’s one of the primary indicators all of the tension with a sigh. Just lis- of a great album. ten to the breathtaking vocal melody. In any case, this is not a good place The drums propell the song forward to start with Radiohead. The timid with quiet intensity. might be scared away by it; fans of This song will toy with your expec- difficult music could find Radiotations the most. After a minute, they head’s more straightforward albums start adding the slippery guitar lines a letdown. I recommend starting with and then Thom sings this line that OK Computer, because it’s more of a goes “Round and round and round middle ground for Radiohead, even and round and ROUUUND” and though I think Kid A is their best. suddenly the guitars get louder and the cymbals start crashing and the song is coming to a GLORIOUS, CATHARTIC conclusion. So you think. Preston Camp is a Junior at St. John’s Instead, they suddenly strip all of the College, Santa Fe. He can be reached at dhappy elements away, leaving you with two eerie chords and Thom singing “Cut the kids in half.” And then he starts murmuring something too

ture was effective. The film refers to the CIA’s rendition and torture program casually as “the detainee program.” The procedures of this program are the first thing we see after a chilling opening scene—audio tapes of the last words of 9/11 victims set to a black screen are followed by an extensive scene of torture. Waterboarded, strung up by ropes tied to the ceiling, deprived of sleep, sexually humiliated, and stuffed into a tiny wooden box (no joke: a coffin would be more comfortable), the detainee will eventually give up reliable information after he is later threatened with more torture, and manipulated into thinking he’s already spilled information (but doesn’t remember it). This is a common occurrence, as Maya later has no qualms threatening to turn a detainee over to the Israelis. Once the “detainee program” is shut down—a fact simply presented, without any reason given other than Obama’s election—we hear how the CIA’s hands are tied since

there is no way to corroborate new evidence. The fact that detainees now have access to lawyers is bemoaned as an insurmountable and stupid obstacle getting in the way of the crusade against Usama. In the face of many public reports, both from government agencies and human rights organizations, that torture played no role in finding Usama’s courier and eventual location, it is disturbing that a film launched as being both historically accurate and definitive suggests otherwise. While it would be a fine work of fiction in a world where 9/11 never happened, the blurred line between fact and fiction is terrifying, especially in a world where so many of us are willfully uninformed. At a time when American policy, especially foreign clandestine policy, must be critically examined, Zero Dark Thirty threatens to throw more mud into the already dirty waters of a debate that ought to have been settled years ago. We can only hope that the reaction to the film will prompt more government transparency and clearer insight into America’s post-9/11 legacy. Cristopher Katrakis is a Senior at St. John’s College, Santa Fe. He can be reached at ckatrakis@sjcsf. edu

How to Drink with Class, if Anyone’s Curious: The Sazerac

By Benjamin Raizen

The cocktail is a philosophy and a way of life. Properly making and enjoying a cocktail is just like making and enjoying a good meal, except that instead of working with food, which is inherently not that interesting, you work with alcohol. And we all know the great fun of alcohol Nowadays a cocktail means almost any mixed drink containing alcohol. But when originally invented in the nineteenth century, a cocktail was defined as a specific concoction of four ingredients: spirits, bitters, sugar, and water. The drink we will be making today, the Sazerac, the traditional drink of New Orleans, is such a cocktail. The spirits in the Sazerac are either rye whiskey or cognac. For rye whiskey I recommend Rittenhouse 100; for Cognac I recommend the exceptional Cognac Dudognon. For bitters, Peychaud’s, also from New Orleans, is standard. For a bit of panache, the Sazerac also includes absinthe or an absinthe substitute such as Herbsaint. You will also need sugar cubes, a lemon for garnish, and plenty of ice. Preparing a Sazerac is almost a meditative act. Every step is imbued with the tradition of the cocktail. Take two double-rocks glasses or oldfashioned glasses. Thoroughly chill one of them, either by placing it in the freezer or filling it with ice water for a short time and then emptying it. Once the glass is cold, add the smallest dash of absinthe to the glass. Leave it aside. Place the sugar cube in the other glass. Pour four dashes of bitters over it. Add a small splash of water; then muddle by crushing the sugar into the liquid and stirring furiously. A muddler is a tool designed for this purpose; if you do not have a muddler, the handle of a thick wooden spoon should be an adequate substitute. Muddle until all the sugar is dissolved; then add two ounces of

spirit. Fill the glass with ice, and stir for twenty to thirty seconds. This stirring is not just to chill the drink, but also to dilute the alcohol content to a pleasant drinking level. You must therefore stir for what feels like quite a long time. Take the first glass and slowly pour the absinthe out, turning the glass as you do so in order to coat its sides. Then strain the drink into this glass, leaving the ice behind. Since the glass is cold, it will keep the drink cold for the time required to drink it. Finally, cut a piece of the peel off of the lemon. Rub the peel around the rim of the glass, squeeze it over the drink to release its oils into the drink, and drop it into the glass. You should be left with a complex sensory experience. As you raise the glass to your lips, you will smell the anise and licorice of the absinthe. But as there is no absinthe in the drink itself, the taste will be an entirely different experience. The dominant flavor will be the mellow aged oak of the whiskey or cognac. Cognac, especially a cognac with character like the Dudognon, will give the drink a wine-like flavor. Rye whiskey is generally a bit spicy, as opposed to the sweetness of bourbon or the smokiness of scotch, and this will come through in a Sazerac made with it. The bitters and sugar modify this taste. “Bitters” is a bit of a misnomer, as their dominant flavor is herbal rather than completely bitter. As sweet and herbal are opposite tastes, the bitters and sugar should balance each other, so that neither is an overpowering flavor. Finally, the lemon oils on the rim of the glass and floating in the drink add the lightest sour note. When all these smells and tastes come together, the result is beautiful. Benjamin Raizen is a Senior at St. John’s College, Santa Fe. He can be reached at

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