Zero Dark Thirty and CIA Cuisine

Jonathan Olley
Chastain's Maya is ever the enigma.
The Dinner: Beef curry, at Krua (12 Mercer St.).

The Movie: Zero Dark Thirty, at the Meridian (1501 Seventh Ave.).

The Screenplate: CIA agent Maya, no last name ever given, is a cipher. She indignantly rejects any notion of romance while posted in Pakistan, because she only has time for one man: Osama bin Laden, whom she's vowed to hunt down and kill (Navy SEALs will do the actual deed). Only late in Kathryn Bigelow's expertly directed procedural do we see a photo on Maya's desk that suggests any kin back in the U.S. But for the many years of her investigation, based on real events and military/intelligence personnel, we never learn any personal details about our heroine. Maya (played with intense focus by Jessica Chastain) almost never laughs or smiles. She cries only once. And she almost never interrupts her work to eat. (When she does settle down for a hotel meal with a CIA colleague, their dinner is rudely interrupted.) So where the hell would this mysterious, driven, globetrotting, pleasure-eschewing woman eat...?

Zero Dark Thirty is already on most top 10 lists, including mine, and it's sure to rack up several Academy Award nominations. Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal previously earned multiple Oscars for 2009's The Hurt Locker, a work of fiction about the Iraq War, while ZDT is more of a docudrama rooted in the endless War on Terror. (Bigelow also visited Seattle for SIFF '09, when we interviewed her.) From Blue Steel to Point Break to Strange Days and her current war series, Bigelow has been intent on protagonists who define themselves via action, not depth of character. At the end of Point Break or The Hurt Locker, do we really know Keanu Reeves' or Jeremy Renner's heroes any better? Do they change? Is there an "arc" to their characters? Not really.

The same is true for Maya: She basically states her mission at the outset of ZDT, encounters many obstacles and frustrations along the way, yet somehow gets what she wants. While Jamie Lee Curtis, in the 1990 cop thriller Blue Steel, was Bigalow's first alpha female, Chastain is her most typical: a woman who's never womanly, soft, or indecisive. Sexy, yes, but Maya is one of the boys--yelling at her CIA boss, demanding more agency resources, subordinating her every human need to the relentless pursuit of bin Laden. She has no life outside of that goal; and in one brief exchange, Maya says she was recruited to the CIA out of high school. There is no "having it all," no work-life balance. There is only work, blood, data, and gunpowder.

Since much of ZDT is set in Pakistan, with detours to Afghanistan and Virginia (home to the CIA), Maya could eat anywhere--if she weren't so indifferent to food. She's a nomad, so we opted for an international stop on our way home from the Meridian, an address that has shifted from Mexican cuisine to Indonesian and recently to Thai. A popular joint in Ravenna for its speedy sit-down and take-out menu, Krua recently expanded to Lower Queen Anne/Uptown in the digs previously occupied by Cloves (and before that, Taco del Mar). Situated next to Ten Mercer, directly in front of a busy bus stop, Krua has claimed a great location, but one that pits it against LQA's dominant Thai joints: Racha and Tup Tim Thai.

This will be a fierce battle, and Krua's arsenal includes a clean, uncluttered space, big windows facing Mercer, and a sit-anywhere cafeteria vibe. TV screens are tuned to sports, with the volume muted. During my visit, instead of Thai pop, Bossa nova music was playing, but with the lyrics in English rather than Portuguese. It seems more modern than TTT, though the Massaman beef curry ($9.25) doesn't compare too well; it's excessively soupy, and the three-star rating seems far too mild. On the plus side, the deep-fried spring rolls ($5.95) are crisp and flavorful. Crucially, they're the right size--like fingers in diameter, better for delicate dipping, instead of the Twinkie-size spring rolls too many Thai restaurants serve. (If you wanted an Asian-style burrito, you'd order one.) The beer list, bottles and on tap, is larger than TTT's, though Racha has a full bar and bigger menu. Given the pace of apartment construction in LQA, I suspect Krua's business will be mainly take-out (especially with the newfangled Metro D Line stop in front). For Uptown residents, the good news is that you can now alternate among different Thai joints three nights a week.

The Navy SEAL team that eventually makes the raid on Abbottabad--including Parks and Recreation actor Chris Pratt, raised in Lake Stevens--would never dine at Krua. They're the sort of red-meat eaters who hunt down and devour what they kill. Maya, on the other hand, would gladly do Krua's take-out and return to her desk to pore over interrogation videos and trace international phone calls and wire transfers. The taste of the food isn't so important for her as the lust for blood. But can Maya even taste food anymore? At the end of The Hurt Locker, Renner's bomb-disposal tech tries to go home, but he can't handle the overabundance of easy American consumer choices, so he reenlists for another tour in Iraq. Maya we last see in transit, her goal accomplished (there's never any doubt of that, though plenty of suspense). Bigelow gives no indication whether this red-headed CIA drone is headed home or to another mission. If she were to stop at Krua, one suspects, she'd ask the TV be tuned to CNN--so as to be vigilant for another attack on the homeland. No time to dine, passport in pocket, she'd then eat her food in a cab en route back to the airport. Her destination? Another terrorist to kill.

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