Notes on Zero Dark Thirty

Becoming Animal

That the movie is rife with scenes of prisoner dehumanization goes without saying. Towards the beginning, Dan (an American in charge of interrogating detainees) places a man in a dog collar before saying, “You’re my dog. I’m gonna walk you.” The verbalization of his action makes clear to the prisoner that he is indeed less than human and it is the U.S. male citizen who has power and control over his physical body.

One of the scenes from the film that stuck with me most isn’t even an integral scene. Actually, it’s so brief I didn’t even notice it the first time I watched a couple of years ago. In this scene, Dan shows his softer side—quite literally treating his “pet” monkeys to some ice cream. However, shortly after we see him looking forlorn into an empty monkey cage as he tells Maya, “They killed my monkeys.” They here being the U.S. govt. The monkeys were a security risk, I guess. Then the camera pans out to show prisoners inside a network of the same cages used to house Dan’s monkeys. This visual conflation of human prisoners and monkeys further entangles human and nonhuman animal bodies in the process of dehumanization. This dehumanization is often necessary to justify the inhumane practices of “enhanced interrogation.”

We know that, like the monkeys, the human prisoners are also security risks that must be destroyed. When Maya asks Dan if the prisoner they’re torturing will ever get out, he simply states, “He’s never getting out.”

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