Friday, February 22, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty and absolutely no backstory

So finally got around to watching Zero Dark Thirty, and loved it. It's complex and fascinating and tense and that Kathryn Bigelow didn't get a best director oscar nod - well, that's for another post.

But the main reason I loved it is because of the main character, Maya played by Jessica Chastain. The movie covers the ten year search for Bin Laden, and we see it almost entirely through the eyes of one woman, a CIA analyst, who never even picks up a gun, but does all the tedious, painstaking work of chasing clues to the whereabouts of America's number one enemy.

And the character evolves through the movie, from wide eyed and relatively innocent to hard edged, whose focus is almost the bane of her superiors. It's an utterly fascinating character study, more so, because aside from one short scene, we never see her in anything but a work situation.

At the end of the movie, we know this woman is the force(and I mean that literally, there are some amazing scenes where she hounds her superiors to do something with the leads she has uncovered)behind the search, but we know almost nothing else about her, except that she's single.

We don't know if she has parents, friends, any other interests, although, I suspect not, or any childhood traumas. We don't even know why she has a drive to find Bin Laden, even after every other person she works with has given up, we just know she's stubborn past all reasonableness.

And it's amazing. I'm left with all these questions that I've been answering, inventing a backstory, ideas of where she might be now, and it's why the movie is still fresh in my mind.

And even though the idea of a character without backstory is tempting, it's almost impossible to do in book form with your main protagonist, but really fun to think about with secondary characters, whose character is revealed entirely but what they do, and not what they've done.

I'm trying to think of an example and nothing comes to mind, but it's something I want to play with a little bit.

Has anyone else seen the movie? Maya is my favourite character of the year by far.


Stephanie Doyle said...

Oh Sinead... I'm still thinking about Maya - and I saw the movie 3 weeks ago.

In an interview with Ellen Jessica said this was the only movie she could recall with a woman lead - where she was only identified by 1 thing - her work. Not a man, not a parent or child.

Just her and the work. That was fascinating to me. That she got recruited out of high school was fascinating to me. I mean seriously? What is she doing in high school - that the CIA finds her and tags her.

I knew this SAT test were rigged!

The only character I've been more blown away by is Carrie in Homeland (I know - I'm seasons behind.)

And of course they are both based on the same woman. The actual crazy ass woman that's out there somewhere now going after someone else.

I would pay 1,000,000 to sit down and have dinner with this woman.

Eileen said...

I haven't seen it yet. I'm a little trepidatious because of what I've heard of the torture scenes.

Characters with no back story? I definitely can think of a movie example or two. In books, the only thing that comes to mind right away is Jack Reacher in the Lee Childs books. I don't think we know anything except his military background. i could be wrong about that.

In any case, none of them are women. None. Very interesting.

Maureen McGowan said...

You are so dead on. She's why that movie works.
I remember at some point she ways she was recruited out of high school...

Oh, wait. Steph's already said that. :) Great minds think alike. That one tiny detail, for me too, was fascinating. Fascinating.

Eileen... There are only 1 or maybe 2 torture scenes... And they are waterboarding. And near the beginning. And not that long. The film is worth seeing for sure.

Both Katherine Bigelow and Ben Affleck were totally robbed of Oscar nominations. I don't understand...

Interesting about the Reacher example. I think you're right. I haven't read those books (MUST) but I've heard the introduction of his character used as an example in writing workshops, so it must be awesome.

Anonymous said...

Eileen, the torture scenes are really not that bad... I'm not sure why there is such controversy over them, Game of Thrones on any given week is far more violent,

And as a character Maya is awesome. Steph, you're right, that scene where she says she was recruited right out of school, and she says she's done nothing else but look for Bin Laden since.. and the look on her face when she says it... man, awesome!!

Maureen McGowan said...

I didn't find them that bad to watch either... and maybe that's the main reason waterboarding is so controversial. It doesn't *look* that bad. But is actually horrible for the one experiencing it.

I didn't read up on the controversy, but I think it's more about whether or not the torture led to any real intelligence. From the little bits I read, some of that was constructed in the movie to get a through line to the plot... I did see a TV doc on the hunt for Bin Laden and they indicated that that piece of the movie plot was pure fiction. And that finding that courier had nothing to do with anything gleaned from torture. Or at least that it was pure speculation.

Travis Erwin said...

I hope to see it soon.

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