Zero Days

Posted on July 7, 2016 at 5:46 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some strong language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: References to weapons of mass destruction
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 8, 2016

If I could require every candidate running for office to see one movie, it would be “Zero Days,” the most terrifying movie of the year. It is the story of the Stuxnet virus developed by the US and Israeli governments to infect the nuclear facilities in Iran. As one of the experts in the film notes, for thousands of years combat was carried out by the army on land and the navy on the water. In the 20th century, battles moved into the air, and so we needed an air force. And the development of atomic weapons posed unprecedented threats and daunting challenges of statecraft as well as warcraft. And now the greatest threats come from code in a thumb drive.

“Zero Days” begins with a collage of experts all saying some version of “I can’t answer that,” “Even if I knew, I couldn’t tell you,” or “That is classified.” And then writer/director Alex Gibney, the man behind documentaries about sensitive topics including Enron, Wikileaks, Scientology, use of torture by US military, and Steve Jobs, finds many of the answers anyway. His most candid source appears to us only as a disembodied face made up of code, dissolving around the edges.

Stuxnet is the name given to the weapons-grade virus by the Symantec engineers who are trying to dissect it so they can protect their customers from it. They have never seen anything so professionally constructed and destructive. (We find out later that internally, the constructors referred to it as Olympic Games.) They begin to suspect that it was put together by a nation-state to be used to disrupt enemy programs, but the project is so secret that even the US Department of Homeland Security has no knowledge of it and is spending its resources to make sure it is not used against American citizens.

Gibney skillfully shapes the story, giving us views of experts in national security, public policy, and viruses, who make it clear that by opening up the door to this category of warfare, the US opens itself up to massive and possibly permanent disruptions from our financial services and banking systems to our power grid, transportation, and water safety. A diplomat says that people thought it was impossible to develop international agreements on nuclear weapons, but, after only two decades, one exists. This movie makes clear that we do not have that kind of time, and that in this election year, there is no more important priority to put on the national agenda than this one.

Parents should know that this film has some strong language and deals with weapons of mass destruction.

Family discussion: Who should decide when to use computer viruses? How much does the public have the right to know?

If you like this, try: Gibney’s film “We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks.”

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