Academy-award winning films Zero Dark Thirty and Argo are both based on a series of real events. Zero Dark Thirty, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, tells the story of Maya, a CIA operative, and her first encounter with Ammar, a member of the Al Qaeda group who assisted the terrorist attacks against the United States of America on September 11, 2001. At first, she stands in the interrogation room unsure as to how she should feel about the extreme torturing process in which the CIA has tactlessly been using. She comes to believe that this may be the only way in which the U.S. can obtain the information necessary to capture Al Qaeda’s leader, Osama Bin Laden. The pursuit for Bin Laden continues for several years and finally, a whole decade later, all of Maya’s hard work has paid off when he is finally found and killed by the U.S. Navy SEAL team. Argo, directed by Ben Affleck, tells another story. The movie begins with a short history lesson of the Persian Empire and moves in to present times. It is now 1979 and the American Embassy in Iran has been invaded by Iranian radicals who have taken many Americans hostage while six manage to escape and flee to the Canadian Embassy. The story continues with Tony Mendez, a CIA operations specialist, and his crazy plan to help the remaining Americans escape by disguising them as Canadian filmmakers. After many obstacles and encounters with Iranian guards, Mendez’s plan follows through and the six return safely home. The rest of the American hostages are released a year later. While Bigelow’s film explains the events that contributed to the hunt for Osama Bin Laden and Affleck’s film retold the story of the United States’ part in the hostage in Iran, both films reenacted true events that affected the United States and other countries. Themes of torture in both films led the audience to view the film as more realistic and relatable. The directors also used music and sound to their advantage when creating these two films. Their unique director styles contributed to the success of both films as well. It is through these themes of torture, use of sound, and distinctive techniques that Kathryn Bigelow and Ben Affleck can be considered auteurs in Zero Dark Thirty and Argo, respectively.
An extremely controversial theme that Affleck presents in Zero Dark Thirty is the use of harsh torturing tactics as the CIA pursues the notorious Osama Bin Laden. Ammar is the first victim to these torturing techniques and experiences things like water boarding and being humiliated in front of many CIA agents. This form of torture is very realistic to the kind of torture that members of Al Qaeda actually experienced. The Americans goal was to make the terrorists feel as though they are powerless. Ammar is embarrassed in front of everyone so that he feels worthless and vulnerable. Even though some people may be against it, the only way to get information out of Ammar and the other terrorists was to torture them. Sound was another necessary part in making Zero Dark Thirty an artistic film. It aided the audience’s attention to understanding what exactly was going on and when it was going on. The music emphasizes the emotion that the film is trying to give the audience. Kathryn Bigelow can definitely be considered an auteur because of this sound technique. Her films are unique to her own feminist personality as well. The main character in this film is a woman, something different in this film than in her other films. However, Maya has some manly features that do not make the gender of the main character that unrealistic. She is smart, powerful, and can administer the same torture that Dan could without thinking twice about it. She is not the stereotypical woman that the audience may have thought her to be in the beginning of the film.
Argo presents many themes of torture as well. There are intense scenes where the audience sees the Americans being threatened with guns as the Iranians attempt to overrun their embassy. Ben Affleck shows the Americans being shoved around which renders them as scared and powerless to the Iranians. Sound is important in all movies, but in Argo, Affleck’s use of sound enhances each scene to relate more to the realistic and serious nature of the film. It captures the audience’s attention and directs them to the major details of each scene. Affleck wanted all of the music in the film to be “real, raw and gritty”. In other words, the music needed to be accurate and real to keep the story real. Many extras were put into the movie to voice the chants of the Iranian people which were actually the real chants that would have been said during the time of the revolution (Marine). Affleck’s career started out small, taking acting classes for fun with his good friend Matt Damon. He began landing parts in smaller films such as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Dazed and Confused,” but soon wanted to write films too. His first work was the script for “Good Will Hunting” which he collaborated on with Damon. He has written the scripts for and directed many other films since then, but what is unique about Affleck is that he stars in almost all of the films that he directs. In Argo, he plays main character Tony Mendez. Affleck has definitely grown up since his small acting career and is now considered an auteur in film.
Many critics complain that Bigelow’s portrayal of torture was immoral and not accurate, when on the contrary, it was necessary to make the film more realistic. The basis for the film was firsthand accounts of people who actually experienced the events the film talks about. When Bigelow is asked in an interview about why she decided to show the harsh interrogation methods, she simply responds, “There’s no question it was difficult, but to deny it would have been to be inaccurate” (Brunner). In Argo, Affleck did not go as in depth with the torture scenes as Bigelow did. His use of torture scenes was minimal and straight to the point whereas Bigelow took a risk by drawing them out and making them extremely violent. However, both directors used the torture scenes to show the loss of power that the ones being tortured were succumbed to. Bigelow proved how weak and vulnerable Ammar was to the CIA agents and Affleck showed the Americans as defenseless to the Iranians. Alexandre Desplat was the composer for most of the music played throughout Zero Dark Thirty and Argo. When asked how he decided to approach the two films, he responded “Zero Dark Thirty is a tragedy. Argo is about hope… The first thing I do is read the script and process the emotions… I try to go into the screen itself and find how the characters work and the lighting and the dialogue” (Zurcher). Both directors wanted to keep the music real and true to their individual film and Desplat respected that. Even though the two films have similar settings, Zero Dark Thirty is a more heartrending story while Argo stays cheerful that the Americans will make it out of there. These different moods called for different styles of music, but the music was still there to keep the audience engaged in the story. Bigelow’s feminist personality shines through in her other films such as “The Hurt Locker” with the main character being that stereotypical “macho” man. Affleck stars as Doug MacRay in one of his other films “The Town”. Bigelow and Affleck clearly have different techniques that they have kept consistent throughout many of their films, which is why they can both be considered auteurs.
Kathryn Bigelow and Ben Affleck have successfully presented scenes of torture, sound techniques, and kept true to their own individual ideas in their films, Zero Dark Thirty and Argo, which has deemed them true auteurs in film. They chose to depict their torture scenes in different ways, but their choices paid off as it kept the film genuine and captivating for the audience to watch. While they both had Desplat compose a lot of the music for their films, the music was in no way the same and did an excellent job of keeping the correct mood for each story. Finally, Bigelow and Affleck have a certain quality about them which shines through in many of their films. Bigelow’s feminist personality allows the audience to recognize any of her films and Affleck’s way of staring in many of his films is something that not every director does. He is both a director and actor and being that familiar with the script allows him to perform well and relate more to each of his roles.