By Marc W. Polite
The revelations of the extent of mass surveillance exposed by whistleblower Edward Snowden is old news. Back in June of 2013, when the story broke of the overreach of the National Security Agency in spying on American citizens, the reaction of a few at the time was, “so what?” Now that we are all inundated with the 2016 presidential election, one of the biggest stories of 2013 seems like a distant memory in the minds of even progressive minded people. “Snowden” by Oliver Stone aims to reignite that discussion, and makes us take a look at recent history when media forces want us to forget.
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the film covers nine years of events in his life, spanning the Bush and Obama years. It shows how Snowden transformed from a computer specialist who wanted to serve his country, into a person who witnessed a great deal of wrongdoing by the government, and decided to blow the whistle on it.
The film, of course is a dramatization, and does take creative license in some areas, but all of this actually happened. When people think of mass surveillance, there is more to it than just watching what people put online. This movie does a good job in showing that everything from e-mails, phone calls, and texts can be tracked. All modern means of communication can be tapped into. While we know how the story ends, “Snowden” takes us through a process in which a person is tested on doing what they believe to be right. The pressure for him to look the other way, like many often have and still do was immense. There’s no way around the fact that going against powerful forces meant blowing up his life as he was used to it.
Oliver Stone captures the international scope of the surveillance state, referring to U.S. spying on ally and enemy alike. Reform movements in the United States need to be concerned with the surveillance state, as it is incredibly easy to be ensnared in a digital dragnet. You can potentially find yourself under surveillance for a post on a message board, a status update or a tweet. Online and offline associations can be “mined” for points of attack, as shown in the film. It is a deeply political film, coming at a time where politics are in the forefront of contemporary American consciousness.
People have seemed to forget how dominant the anti-war movement was during the Bush years. A few scenes reminded me of a time where people questioned things more.
This film comes after 9/11, which has become a morbid ritual especially with the 15th year anniversary. It comes right at the end of an Obama presidency which has been a rude awakening for progressives, and in the midst of a general election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, which are both unpopular for different reasons.
This is a good film to have a discussion around. With a conversation around the actions of Colin Kaepernick and what patriotism really means, the reminder about a surveillance state encroaching on our freedoms is a much needed one.
The only thing I will say about the end of the film, is that the stories it released gave the impression that just the reveal on the programs the government is doing was enough to stop the program. It is a little too simple. Other than that, I recommend that progressive minded people see this film.