Zero Dark Thirty: lessons in self-love

“If you lie to me, I will hurt you,” so says Dan, the CIA interrogator.

There has been much debate about whether Zero Dark Thirty was right to depict torture as the way that the U.S. got the initial information that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011. Either it wasn’t or the powers that be want us to believe it wasn’t, but that is not what I want to talk about.

The early scenes of the torture of detainee, Ammar, in a black op detention centre got me thinking about the nature of abuse. Jason Clarke portrays Dan, the torturer brilliantly. His Dan is bearded, exudes vitality and, of course, incites terror. The viewer readily understands his determination to uncover bin Laden’s hideout. Then the torture starts. It is, as ever, deeply personal, an intimate experience. Hands on. Ammar is naked, utterly exposed, totally isolated.  He is kept awake for 96 hours. (Is that even possible?) Or he is left in total darkness, his ears bombarded with loud rock and roll. His handlers wear black ski masks – except for Dan. He presents himself as Ammar’s friend. If Ammar tells the truth. If not, he will string him up by his arms, waterboard him, or stuff him into a box much too small and leave him there for hours. It is all up to Ammar. Eventually, Dan moves on to a friendlier phase with a cleaned up Ammar sitting down to a delicious meal and convinces him that he has already given Dan most of the information he asked for, so he might as well fill in the details.

Presumably, Dan learned these techniques in torture class and may well have practised them and been practised on. Others come by them without such training. Growing up with one presents challenges both then and afterwards.

Abusers tell you that they don’t want to hurt you. They have to because you deserve it. It is in your nature. It is punishment for what you have done. It’s because you think bad thoughts. It’s because of what you won’t do. If you stand up to the abuser, if the pain inflicted on you doesn’t bend you to his (could be her, but I’m going with his) will, others may be drawn in, smaller, perhaps, or just more vulnerable. But the abuser insists, he is really your friend, your best friend, your only friend. How could anyone else like you since you are —— (fill in the blank).

While this may be character building in the short run, it has some long term negative results. Your abuser may have fallen silent years ago. It may, in fact, be the 25th anniversary of his death and yet, he has taught you so well that you can now run the script yourself, even though you are not aware of it. So whatever happens, you find that you have not quite measured up. You’re just a bit slimy, not very nice, socially undesirable. You have, in point of fact, failed many times and in important ways.

Not only that, you are permanently pissed off. It was all grossly unfair. It was unjust. Nobody should be treated that way. Years later, you watch a movie called Death of the Maiden and identify deeply with the rage of the torture victim.

What is the answer to this self-perpetuating abuse?

Perhaps it can start simply with the idea that you have always been well-intentioned, no matter how things turned out. Perhaps it can go on to note that you have done your best and that effort needs to be respected. You have respected and even cherished others for these virtues. Why not yourself? Your love has flowed out to others, why not let it flow through you as well? There may be a hiccup of grief at the beginning, but once the furnace of self-love is stoked, it will begin to heat and heal the body so that it lets go of pain, so that it relaxes and unfolds.

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2 thoughts on “Zero Dark Thirty: lessons in self-love

  1. Pingback: Is That Supposed to Be Funny? – consider satire | 115 journals

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