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Argo (2012)
The movie was fake. The mission was real.
Filmmaker(s): Ben Affleck

As the Iranian revolution reaches a boiling point, a CIA 'exfiltration' specialist concocts a risky plan to free six Americans who have found shelter at the home of the Canadian ambassador.

Argo (2012)

Will’s Good Hunting

It has been a month since I have seen this and I am struggling to write a comment, because of what I know I will see in another CIA-supported movie: Bigelow’s movie about Bin Laden.

All movies bring history into the story, but movies ‘inspired by actual events’ take serious risks. My problem is not particularly about this movie. Oh, I’ve carried a prejudice against Affleck, because of his first film. As popular as it was, it got MIT wrong, NSA of the era wrong, and mathematical hunger wrong. Written by townies, it blew a tremendous opportunity. Both Damen and Affleck have done fine work since, and this one is surely a well made film. I am imagining that limiting himself to a 40 year old cinematic vocabulary, and relying on Clooney’s experience made it easier.

The problems are that movies of this kind are market-driven, which means we see what we want to see. When you combine that with political agenda, you can get into serious trouble. Bigelow signed a contract with the CIA allowing them control over what is shown, and they used that to promote the lie that torture worked. We don’t know what constraints Affleck is under; I assume they are inherited from the book which in turn would be constrained by the Agency.

In both cases (Bigelow and Affleck) the actual stories are engaging enough. Affleck didn’t have to insert all that last minute cliffhanger stuff. He didn’t have to make it seem that Canadians did little. He didn’t have to make up that stuff about Carter. There was no reason to omit the planning for the disastrous rescue mission for the hostages. He could have noted that the current president of Iran was a leader in the ‘student’ invasion. He might have introduced the reason the US was so tepid in its response, related to lost nuclear technology that is now in the news. I suppose all of these may have been ‘suggested’ by the Agency liaison.

Oh well.

I did like the narrative folding. Here we have a somewhat fake movie about a somewhat faker movie, the two woven together by the notion of manufactured stories. That main fold is obvious enough.

I also liked the insertions — not on the book — of the internal movie references. The first was the direct copy of sets and movements from ‘All the President’s Men,’ subtly establishing the work of the men we see as rushed creative discovery of the right story. That worked for me.

The second is the background thread about the man and his boy. Affleck’s character is separated from his son. The movie he is ‘working on’ is a film where a father goes into an exotic land to rescue his son. At the end, we see him miraculously restored to his family, with a storyboard artefact denoting the new narrative. It was a bit too obvious for me, but well crafted narrative folding.

Viewers may be interested in the actual movie. It was not a raw, discarded script that was developed. It was instead a well developed science fiction movie that failed to get financing. Because of the legal limbo, the Agency was able to appropriate it. It was a real movie, and one whose notions are also folded.

It was written by Roger Zelazny, a then best selling Scifi author whose gimmick was to appropriate a magical world from religion or the occult and stage a story within a simplified replica work built on the pre-existing cosmology. His ‘Lord of Light’ adopted Hindu notions for the purposes of body-sharing. It was the basis of the script which was to be the biggest budgeted movie of the era, filmed while a theme park was built in parallel. The notions of relative truth in religion, of mixed identities, of intrigue, of manipulated fabrication can be folded into the richness of viewing this if you know about it.

Posted in 2013

Ted’s Evaluation — 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.


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