Zero Days (Berlin Review)
Alex Gibney’s excellent new documentary, Zero Days, is infused with a sense of urgency, relevance, and terrifying propinquity. You’ll never look at your cell phone the same way again.
The way countries fight wars has evolved away from the sea (19th century) and the sky (20th century) to what it is today: a bunch of 0’s and 1’s in mind-bogglingly complex computer codes with the enormous potential to shut down a country’s entire nervous system, rendering them vulnerable to danger and destruction. It’s the 21st century, and the name of the game is cyber warfare. Nations have already caught on whether they can talk about it or not, something viewers will either accept or be infuriated by. The documentary tells the story of Stuxnet, a kinetic cyber weapon of potential mass destruction, which was behind various reactor failures in Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility during President Obama’s first year in office.
Interviewing a range of professionals and people in-the-know, from Symantec coders to government insiders, nuclear physicists, and one anonymous NSA source that becomes the mother load of insider intel, Gibney and producing partner Marc Shmuger approach the subject of Zero Days as a techno-thriller choking on red tape, brimming with confidential state secrecy and mysterious agendas. As the source of Stuxnet unravels to something that ultimately makes it “look like a back-alley operation,” Zero Days will grip the viewer in ways that something like All The President’s Men must have been gripping when it opened people’s eyes to the Watergate scandal.
In the post-Snowden era of leaked information, it’s often humorous to see how much Gibney still runs into dead-ends and walls. Frustratingly, at a certain stage, there is a bit too much focus on finger pointing, which will give conspiracy theorists who have deluded anti-government stances more rope than they deserve. But Gibney pulls back on the politics just in time to conclude the frightening findings on a note of openness and discussion. If cyber warfare is the new normal, which technological advancement has turned into a foregone conclusion, nations need to start talking about it honestly and openly. Engaging from start to finish, Zero Days reminds us that Gibney is at his very best when documenting universal subjects as opposed to the Going Clear and Man In The Machine docs of last year, which, though compelling in their own right, are limited by the very nature of their own subjects.