Zero Dark Thirty isn't really about the search for Osama bin Laden. Though that's the sequence of events around which the movie revolves, the main purpose of the film is to validate women's roles in places where men have traditionally dominated. This is a noble effort and certainly one that bears consistent repeating, given how we're still so male-focused in society: men's sports vs. women's sports, women on the front lines in combat, lack of equal pay standards, the list goes on and on...even into the arts, where it would seem natural for women to have an equal share of opportunity and recognition as men. It wasn't until 1998 that a female director won a Tony Award for work on Broadway (2 won that year, surprisingly, one for directing a play and the other for a musical). And it wasn't until Kathryn Bigelow won a Best Director Oscar in 2008 for The Hurt Locker that Hollywood seemed to finally acknowledge women directors.
Throughout Zero Dark Thirty, we see Jessica Chastain's character--I don't remember her name, but I do remember the men referred to her as "The Girl"--transition from a somewhat reluctant viewer of state-rationalized torture into the leader of the small group who took down America's Most Wanted. The torture scenes, shown taking place in 2003--well ahead of our national debate on torture--are used not to show how awful the US is; they're there to show how difficult it was for The Girl to be in the situation she found herself in. We see her reluctance, her questioning, her hesitation, her every-other-synonym-we-can-find. The torture scenes are not egregious and end when we understand The Girl has grown at least somewhat used to the tactic.
Side note: the societal debate about the use of torture in this film is silly. Though the film is based on real events, it's a fictional story--The Girl's character does not exist in reality. True, there were women CIA operatives involved, but Chastain's character as portrayed on the screen is an amalgam of multiple people. That's important to understand first, and then to remember as we view the torture within context of the developmental needs of the character. The scenes were necessary; whether they're a condemnation, support, or falsifications of US tactics is irrelevant. It's fiction. Move on.
Back to The Girl. Aside from the misogynistic referencing of Chastain's character as The Girl, the men in ZDT are portrayed as incompetent, unsure, and weak. This is an isolation technique Bigelow uses to establish The Girl's strength and, by proxy, the strength of all women who are in male-dominated environments. And that's a valid artistic choice, not necessarily a good one, but valid nonetheless. It's clear as we watch the film that The Girl is the only one who was actually capable of finding bin Laden. Ok. Girl Power!
Except. Jennifer Ehle plays, I cannot remember her name either (in fairness, I don't remember any character names--I'm not just being a misogynist), the (we'll call her) Other Girl. She and Chastain share a brief territorial (and cliched) squabble when they meet, but then become somewhat close (and cliched) friends. The difference between the two is shown through emotion. The Girl is not outwardly emotional about her job, while The Other Girl becomes very excited at the possibilities involved in their shared mission. This emotion is heightened and punished in the following scene, which reenacts a pivotal moment for the CIA that occurred in December 2009.
Note: this is a potential spoiler, I know, but I also don't care. If you didn't pay enough attention to the news to recall what happened when the date flashes on the screen, shame on you.
This event did happen and it was a woman CIA agent who facilitated this meeting. It's troubling, though, that Bigelow is allowed to use it to punish The Other Girl for having emotions. That is the context of the event within in this film, and the result is to further close off The Girl's emotions and isolate her from her colleagues.
But that's not the problem with the scene. Neither is the fact that the scene is 5 minutes long.
No, the problem with the scene is this:
WHY is there a black cat running across the street?
Is there an abundance of cats, specifically black ones, on our bases in Afghanistan? Are they wont to roam free where seemingly no one else is? We have scavenger cats around our house in Brooklyn, but Brooklyn is a big city and it makes sense for cats to wander around. It doesn't make sense on a military base in Afghanistan.
But whether it's possible or not for a cat to wander a military base in Afghanistan is not the issue (though it is ridiculous). The issue is the choice to use this cat. It's not like the cat just happened to wander into the shot. There was a specific choice made to include this cat in this moment, and that was to foreshadow the event that was about to occur. And it actually looks like the cat was added digitally (though I, of course, can't say for sure).
A black cat. Used to foreshadow something bad happening. Just. Dumb.
This. This is the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen.