Jessica Chastain as CIA agent Maya in the film "Zero Dark Thirty." (Sony Pictures )
In both the recently concluded season of Showtime’s “Homeland” and the new film “Zero Dark Thirty,” a young female CIA operative becomes obsessed with tracking an elusive terrorist and nearly destroys herself in the process.
As it turns out, both “Homeland’s” Carrie (an ostensibly fictional character played by Claire Danes) and “Zero Dark’s” Maya (an ostensibly real-life one portrayed by Jessica Chastain) share similarities with an actual agent who doggedly pursued Osama bin Laden. (She makes an appearance as "Jen" in "No Easy Day," written pseudonymously by retired Navy SEAL Mark Owen; the Washington Post describes her as fiercely intelligent, if combative and a little credit-hungry.)
As "Zero Dark" hits theaters, there will no doubt be a lot said about its similarities to “Homeland.” Some of that is pure coincidence. Some of it is what happens when two sets of ambitious creators craft pieces out of the same zeitgeist. Indeed, watching the final scene of "Zero Dark" as Maya chokes up — a swell of emotions upon the completion of her post-9/11 mission — can’t but remind a film-goer of the penultimate episode of 'Homeland" and Carrie’s reaction to same.
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Here’s a dossier on the “Homeland” and “Zero Dark” main characters -- and what viewers of the Emmy winner will find both familiar and different in the heroine of the Golden Globe nominee:
Carrie: Recruited to the CIA after graduating from Princeton, her job has taken her for long periods to the Middle East, where she's especially skilled at cultivating assets.
Maya: Recruited to the CIA straight out of high school, her job takes her for a long period to Central Asia, where she’s especially skilled at piecing together disparate bits of information.
Key CIA relationship
Carrie: Grizzled but paternal agency veteran played by Mandy Patinkin, favorite son of the Broadway musical theater.
Maya: Grizzled but fraternal agency veteran played by Jason Clarke, favorite son of an Australian sheep-shearer.
Carrie: Abu Nazir, a radical Islamist ideologue and terrorist mastermind who has conducted mass killings of U.S. citizens and avoided capture; he eventually sneaks into, and takes refuge in, the U.S.
Maya: Osama bin Laden, a radical Islamist ideologue and terrorist mastermind who has conducted mass killings of U.S. citizens and avoided capture; he hides out in a suburb of Islamabad, Pakistan.
Internal CIA showdown
Carrie: Passionately tells boss she needs more resources or he'll have a lot of explaining to do down the line.
Maya: Passionately tells boss she needs more resources or he'll have a lot of explaining to do down the line.
Carrie: No long-term partner to speak of, though she certainly has a thing for that Brody.
Maya: Determinedly non-amorous, she laughs off a colleague’s suggestion of an intraoffice hookup.
Carrie: Eschews family for work while struggling with bipolar disorder and threats on her life.
Maya: Eschews family for work while struggling with a general malaise and threats on her life.
Moment of triumph
Carrie: Tears up in quiet introspection as she finally looks at body of terrorist target while standing in rural Virginia surrounded by FBI agents.
Maya: Tears up in quiet introspection as she finally looks at body of terrorist target while standing in rural Afghanistan surrounded by Navy SEALs.
Zero Dark Thirty hunts for bin Laden--and more