Why the Left is Being Left Behind


You can’t take other people’s opinions too seriously. Case in point; I went to see the film Argo recently, and before booking tickets over the ‘net, read some online reviews. Fortunately, I discounted them, listened to the opinions of people I knew who had enjoyed the film and went along anyway. It was fantastic; not least of all because it was a superficially simple story, functioning as a Trojan-horse for all kinds of progressive, sophisticated ideas.

I wouldn’t have the body of film-going knowledge of many reviewers, but when you get the spiel about ‘American cheese’ in the last 30 minutes, or how the film is ill-timed, coming at ‘a low point in Iranian/American relations’, you can’t help but think their education and knowledge was either wasted on them, or has been put in the back seat while said reviewer climbs onto the film as if it were a soap box from which they can declaim their lefty credentials.

There were two clues to the sophistication of Argo early on; the first was George Clooney’s name on the screen, crediting him as co-producer. Clooney has been responsible for a number of provocative films in recent times, notably Syriana, Michael Collins and Good Night and Good Luck, all of which are essays on the way in which the American dream has become a nightmare, and the manner in which Americans themselves have contributed historically.

The second clue was the voice-over which introduces the context of the film. The speaker explains that, immediately before the hostage crisis with which the film is concerned, Iran had democratically elected its own Prime Minister, Mohammed Mossadegh. He nationalized the Iranian petroleum reserves, returning them to the Iranian People. He was deposed shortly after by US and UK interests wishing to retain cheap oil and installed Shah Reza Pahlavi to facilitate it. The Shah was profligate and fond of all manner of torture and degradation to maintain his power.

The film reminded me of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities in terms of its portrayal of the Iranians. Dickens’ novel begins with a similar portrait of the French as a people cruelly oppressed. Once the novel’s protagonists return to revolutionary France as the Terror is sweeping through, you witness a complex portrait of the French as certainly responsible, but in the grip of a terrible force which had been fired by the privation and institutionalized cruelty that preceded it.

Furthermore, there’s a couple of fabulous sequences in Argo relating to the nature of sci-fi films themselves; one is the montage which shows a reading of the script by the actors in costume, shifting from the events of the script to the events surrounding the hostage rescue operation. It illustrates the way in which we produce these broad-stroke, mythic fantasies in order to explain and express the tension of the complex events that are moving around us.

The other ‘great’ moment of the film is when one of the hostages, while masquerading as a member of a Canadian film crew scouting Iran for film locations, explains the story of the film to airport security by way of storyboard illustrations, which are props for their escape. The fictional film Argo is the story of an intergalactic race of people rising up to defend themselves against a vain, oppressive ruler who seeks to enslave them. The Iranians, just like the ‘Canadians’, are moved and entertained.

Perhaps the American flag fluttering in the background toward the end irritated some critics; perhaps it was the very ‘American’ strategy of reducing the film’s basic values to a matter of love for family as sustenance for the film’s hero, Tony Mendez, played by Ben Affleck. Love for family, or for a child, is certainly a theme of which Dickens approved.

What the critic missed, I assume, was the subtlety of these sequences. Perhaps an audience will not entirely apprehend them, either; I expect that images like the flag and themes like family, however, will be absorbed, and contribute to shifting Western audiences from their perceptions of the Middle East as a hotbed of religious fervor and violence, and begin to consider their own economic contributions.

Then again, what would I know? I’m just a drop in the cultural bucket. Certainly not as influential as a professional critic.


One Response to “Why the Left is Being Left Behind”

  1. Well I am moved to go and see the film now.

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