Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Argo (2012)

     And onto another excellent movie from 2012, “Argo”. I’m not totally sure if it’s going to happen, but all the signs so far point to Ben Affleck’s third directorial effort winning Best Picture at the Oscars in a couple weeks. Which would be strange, because Affleck himself didn’t get a Best Director nomination, which definitely shocked me. But he might still win as a producer come Oscar night, and it wouldn’t surprise me. “Argo” is not my favorite movie of the year (I’ll get to that later), but it was still a very entertaining film.

     “Argo” is set during the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979, when militants stormed the U.S. embassy and took American hostages while six people escaped to the house of the Canadian ambassador. Members of the CIA, including Tony Mendez (Affleck), are having trouble figuring out a way to get the escapees out. But one night, Affleck has an idea after seeing a “Planet of the Apes” movie on television: to create a cover story that the escapees are Canadian filmmakers scouting a location for a science-fiction epic.

     It’s an idea that sounds so crazy, it just might work. So Mendez and his supervisor Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston) find make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) in Hollywood to help them make the cover story as credible as they can, finding an unmade script and creating everything for it: costumes, storyboards, a crew, everything. There can’t be any doubt in the Iranians’ heads when the escapees are being snuck out.

     When Mendez and his “crew” arrive in Iran, he has a hard time getting the escapees to trust him. As he gives them the information they need to know about what the film is and what their roles (and new names) should be, a few of them seriously doubt the plan will work. However, they eventually are on board with the cover story and are ready to escape back to the United States.

     However, one night, Mendez gets a call from O’Donnell saying that the cover story has been cancelled and the military is planning its own rescue. But Mendez is committed to the cover story and getting the Americans out that way, and so at the last minute, O’Donnell reauthorizes their plane tickets out of the country, and they arrive at the airport ready to explain their “film” to security. When security has doubts, they are given the phone number of the film’s Hollywood studio. They call the number, and Chambers answers it at the last second.

     So the Americans escape, and for the hostages’ protection, all U.S. involvement is kept secret—the media declares it was a Canadian mission, led by the ambassador who escaped at the same time with his wife. And until 1997, the “Canadian Caper”, as it is now known, was kept a secret, along with Mendez receiving an award from the CIA. The rest of the hostages were eventually released in 1981.

     “Argo” has been hailed as many things: suspenseful, darkly comic, a tribute to Hollywood, and a great political thriller. But it has also received a heavy amount of criticism for taking a lot of dramatic license. In reality, a lot of things that we see portrayed in the movie didn’t happen. The hostage situation was real; the Canadian and American joint effort was real; even the fake movie cover story was (ironically) real. But Lester Siegel didn’t have a role in the rescue; the Canadian government played a bigger part in the rescue than the CIA; and there was no last-minute suspense as to whether or not the Americans would be able to leave.

     But as I thought about it a little, I think maybe this blurred line between fiction and reality is the main theme of the movie itself—the actual movie, not the fake one. The whole point of the mission is that Tony Mendez is making up a lie to save the lives of these six Americans. He’s putting his own life at stake creating this hoax. So is he doing right? Or is he doing wrong? This can actually be a strong debate between sides, whether or not lying to protect is the right thing to do.

     Maybe it just depends on the situation. You can read many stories in the book of Genesis about Abraham lied to his leaders and said his wife was actually his sister, so that her life would be spared. In the book of Joshua, even Rahab the prostitute lies to protect the lives of Israelites because she fears their God. And even outside the Bible, we can read many stories of people during World War Two who lied to the Germans to protect the lives of hidden Jews, and there are many other stories about different points in history where people lied to protect other people.

     Unfortunately, this is an issue that the Bible does not address head-on. However, in 1 John 3, it is written: “This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him.” (3:19-22) In situations such as these, the only thing we can do for sure is submit ourselves to the Lord. And that is my prayer for you today.

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