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A hard, necessary look at torture
BY MOLLY TEMPLETON
TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE: Written, directed, produced and narrated by Alex Gibney. THINKFilm, 2008. R. 106 minutes.
When Taxi to the Dark Side won this year’s Best Documentary Feature Oscar, it was a surprise to fans of No End in Sight, a brilliant documentary about the missteps made in the invasion of Iraq. But like the previous year’s Best Foreign Language Film surprise — when The Lives of Others beat the popular Pan’s Labyrinth — the award was given to the correct film. Taxi to the Dark Side is a stunning investigation into the abuse of prisoners in U.S. prisons in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere and a detailed argument against the use of torture that, though the filmmaker’s position is clear, carefully allows proponents of the U.S.’s actions their say. It uses as a stepping-off point the death of a taxi driver named Dilawar in a prison at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. From Bagram, the film moves to Abu Ghraib and eventually to Guantanamo, tracing the use of vicious interrogation tactics and looking at the combination of ambiguity and pressure from above that led to their use in the first place.
One of the most difficult things about watching Taxi is the frequent lack of surprise. There is horror, and plenty of it, but by now, we’ve come to expect that things are going to go the way they go, that superiors aren’t going to be punished for what they’ve implicitly or explicitly told their soldiers to do; that there will be no written trail to follow back to the higher-ups; that there will be denials and evasions. What is surprising and engrossing is the depth and breadth of Alex Gibney’s (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) interviews and investigations. This is a dense film, one where I kept catching myself trying to remember everything, as if I could tuck it all into one review — the comments from the soldiers who interrogated Dilawar (without nearly enough training and sometimes reluctantly) and those who inflicted terrible bruises on his legs; the story of the British man who was held for nearly three years without charges; the astonished remarks of lawyers about the absurdity of the system they were trying to fight; the insistent statements of those who believe that the men the U.S. has in custody are truly the bad guys. Watching Taxi to the Dark Side is exhausting; watching it is necessary. Carefully structured, beautifully presented, the film examines what has happened, how it was allowed and encouraged to happen and, in the end, what little — if any — good it does.
Taxi to the Dark Side opens Friday, April 11, at the Bijou.