CIA Agent Maya (Jessica Chastain) in Zero Dark Thirty
By Ophelie Zalcmanis-Lai
Photo courtesy of Dark Zero Thirty
“I’m the motherfu**er that found this place,” says CIA agent Maya, aka Jessica Chastain, the lead in Oscar-nominated Zero Dark Thirty.
From beginning to end, viewers remained engrossed in the intellectual maze dubbed as “the greatest manhunt in history.” Starting with the eerie recordings of peoples’ last moments during the 9/11 attacks, the film takes viewers through the decade long hunt to find Osama Bin Laden, including minute leads, the excruciating High Value Terrorist Detainee Program, and the human lives lost on both sides. However, what completed the film was its lead character: a female CIA agent that turned a testosterone dominated arena upside down on her own terms.
Even though Maya is “someone who’s trained to be unemotional, it doesn’t mean [she’s] not emotional,” Chastain said in an interview with Matt Patches of Hollywood.com. Maya is the perfect balance between analytical and human.
As with anyone placed in a hostile situation, Maya changes from beginning to end, and Chastain’s attention to incorporating understated but noticeable personality transitions maintained her authenticity. Maya’s rawness gave viewers a channel to connect with her, as though Maya could be any one of us.
In an environment where opinions clashed from all directions, Maya, being the new agent, was frequently brushed off. She epitomized was unapologetic about being smart, however, the epitome of the “killer” that she described herself as. Maya treated everyone the same, superior or not. She even wrote daily reminders for her male superior for the 121 days he had information on Bin Laden’s location but wasn’t acting fast enough for her. She hunted for what she wanted done and what was right no matter how demanding it was.
Most importantly, Maya broke every stereotype of the traditional female character from the first scene. She wasn’t secondary to anyone; she wasn’t a wife, daughter, or girlfriend. She sacrificed having a social life because she wanted to “smoke everyone involved in this op.” Her character wasn’t sexed-up to be ‘aesthetically appealing’ to earn someone’s affection. She kept her sense of self through her femininity along the way, but didn’t fall victim to the sympathy card as she looked straight into the eyes of tortured detainees and said “you can help yourself by being truthful.”
For once, viewers get to see a truly strong female lead that they can respect. This isn’t your quintessential character that overcame a bad breakup, but one where she dedicated a decade to one goal, made her own life secondary to her mission, and was 100 per cent certain in an area where certainty was scary and dangerous.
In one scene, Squadron leader Patrick is asked what convinced him before leaving to complete the UBL mission. His answer?
Yeah, same here. M