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‘Zero Dark Thirty’ And The Rise of Female Spies

By Alyssa Rosenberg  

"‘Zero Dark Thirty’ And The Rise of Female Spies"

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I’m unsure about the voiceover used to sell the movie, but I remain pretty excited for Zero Dark Thirty, in part because of its focus on the role of female intelligence operatives. I’d have a proclivity for these kinds of stories in the first place, and it doesn’t hurt that, as Eli Lake recently recounted in a great feature for Newsweek on women and espionage, is actually an accurate reflection of how the hunt for bin Laden went down:

The most human moment in the trailer may be Chris Pratt asking Joel Edgerton “What part convinced you?” and Edgerton’s deadpan response, “Her confidence.” It’s a relatively new thing, this idea that we could trust women to give orders to men in uniform, and all of a sudden, we’ve got a lot of fascinating female intelligence operatives playing with that tension and those questions about reliability. In the current iteration of the James Bond movies, M stands for mother, to a certain extent, with Bond breaking into her apartment and playing fast and loose with her orders in a classic display of rebellious boundary-testing. On Homeland, Carrie Mathison is meant to seem unreliable because of her mental illness and the way it interacts with her gender, influencing her affairs with both David Estes, her boss, and Nicholas Brody, her target. But the show doubles up the reasons she shouldn’t be trusted, and then proves her right anyway. Now, Jessica Chastain, who doesn’t actually speak a word in this trailer, presented in profile, eyes huge or utterly obscured, is being presented as the person on whose shoulders the mission to get Osama bin Laden rested. That cleaving of the requirement that expertise be validated by machoness if not explicitly by gender, even by emotional stoicism, is fascinating and important. These are big, tense, horrible things the intelligence community sets into motion. And women seem to be the ones expressing the weight of that knowledge, and those decisions.

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