So I know I made a commitment some time ago, in the interest of maintaining my sanity and preserving my sense of self, to only go to the cinema to watch movies starring people of color or featuring stories of color. But this one sounded interesting, my vocal instructor recommended it, and Tom Hanks is the GOAT, so this evening I made an exception. Ma and I's selection for this evening was a film about the Cold War, one of many wars of dubious necessity injected with American-made fear and fantasy in order to justify violence and make Americans feel good about themselves. A war which has also spawned many a film such as this one. And the story goes...
Seen Friday, October 23: Bridge of Spies
"In the shadow of war, one man showed the world what we stand for."
First America's like, "Ayo Donovan! We caught this dude with an inexplicable Irish?Scottish? accent who we're sure is a Russian spy, and we need you to defend him in court. Can't have our justice system looking like it throws people into the trash heap even though that's exactly what it does. So help us give him a semblance of due process to make us look good." Then America's like, "Look, we know as a lawyer you have a duty to abide by the law and the Constitution and human decency and all that stuff, but we didn't really want you to do the job we appointed you to do. Naw man, you exemplified honesty and American values too well, and that's just un-American 'cuz we really just wanted to fry that Commie! Why couldn't you have just played along?!" And then America's like, "Alright man, we know we just finished dogging you out and the CIA tried to intimidate you and your house just got shot up, but since the Commie was found guilty like we wanted him to be, and now the Russians have one of our pilots in custody in the USSR, we'll give you one more chance to prove how much you love this country. Go to East Berlin and negotiate a swap to get that pilot back in exchange for the Commie you just defended. We can't get our hands too dirty, so this is totally under wraps and we can't officially acknowledge you. As such we can offer you no help, so if you mess this up or something goes down, we will not protect you. Oh and there's some other American doctoral student wrongfully imprisoned in East Berlin, but we don't care so much about him, so just focus on the pilot." And then America's like, "Oh! You managed to trade one for two and get both the American guys back. You're a true American hero! Right on!" 'Cuz Commies. 'Cuz 'Murica. And so on and so forth.
And I'm rolling my eyes all the way home.
Not about the film itself, mind you. The film is great! Tom Hanks is a legend! And this is an intensely engaging story that I'm glad Steven Spielberg chose to highlight. In my humble opinion, he treated the story with dignity, as he is wont to do. What I roll my eyes at is what the film reveals about American society that most audience members won't realize is actually sickeningly typical. Because they'll probably be too drowsy from having their appetite for testaments to our so-called "exceptionalism" satiated. Bridge of Spies lays two grand jokes out on the table for us to chew on: that of the justice system (due process as a fraud, a facade, a spectacle, going through the motions, little more than an aspiration) and that of American heroism (oftentimes America will only celebrate you as a hero or a patriot if you demonstrate American values the selective way people want you to, not if you actually play by the rules, do the right thing, genuinely stand by what you claim to believe in and do so not only as it conveniences you, etc.) But these are two jokes that I'm pretty sure few people will get. I imagine there'll be a lot of talk like, "Man, what a crazy scenario. Sucks for that guy. But hey, those were the times. What do you expect? Besides, it worked out for him in the end." Instead of, "Man, that's wrong and messed up. Why were those folks put in such a situation anyhow? And how much have we really evolved from that particular moment in time?"
On the whole I say, Bravo! This is most definitely a film worth watching, and deserving of whatever merits it might be considered for. (Come on now. Tom Hanks? Spielberg? War film? With award season in just a few months? In this country that's a no-brainer.) My only qualm is that the film has a lot to teach us that will go over many heads, because if we look beyond the surface it shows us too much of what we'd prefer not to see.