I don’t really want to write a full-blown review on “Argo”, as it is for the most part in the limbo between the theaters and DVD release and it would be rather hard to just go and watch it now. But I do feel compelled to share a few thoughts on that film and it’s not exactly the film itself that I have the need to express myself about, but the potential discussion it may open and fuel together with the fallout it may bring.
Don’t get me wrong, I think “Argo” is a great story that really had me bolted to my seat. But it touches on the subjects that are tainted with ambiguity in a way that leaves a bad after-taste. How do I put this? The story that “Argo” tells is just bound to feel wrong. It looks as though it was a fantastic film material, but I really don’t have a clue how Ben Affleck could have possibly presented it without running into the same problem all over again – having the viewer take sides in this morally ambiguous territory.
It seems to me that Affleck had a really hard time trying to decide what to focus on. On one side he had this wonderful story of human resilience, determination and survival that in any circumstances – fictional or otherwise – would make a fantastic movie, and on the other he had an excuse to have a say on a subject that is widely discussed and notoriously abused for political reasons – human oppression, power and the global image of the Muslim community. I’m afraid you just cannot have the cake and eat it too. You just need to pick one and Affleck, sadly, failed to make that crucial decision.
This makes “Argo” a very unusual experience. We are fed this almost constant stream of imagery taken from real TV programs, we see actual historic evidence of how the Great Islamic Revolution unfolded, we are given enough background to understand what had started it and we are given the opportunity to see that there were no good guys there. This is what documentaries are for. This is what we usually expect from the journalists to provide us with: hard data, good research and an honest unbiased opinion. On top of that, I might add, whenever a wildly complex topic is under discussion, the viewer needs a bit of guidance, so that he does not choose sides, at least prematurely. Otherwise you are not documenting history, but forging propaganda. There are of course fields, where something seems ambiguous and very grey at first, but good research can at least attempt to find a plausible unbiased explanation. This is not the case, though.
So, when you get past the political and historic shell and follow the story, you somehow cannot help but root for the main characters. Why wouldn’t you? There you have it; a group of innocent bystanders who happened to find themselves in a wrong time and place are surrounded by violence and death. And as the CIA goes to ridiculous lengths in order to get them back home, the viewer is allowed to establish a personal connection with them. I couldn’t help crossing my fingers for them even though I knew beforehand how the story ended. And while it’s desirable in an action film or a thriller or what-have-you, here in “Argo” it feels out of place. Simply because Affleck (purposefully or not) right there portrayed the Iranians as the baddies and the Americans as the victims of oppression and I think that crosses the line. He made me subconsciously choose sides in a conflict where no-one is sufficiently qualified to do so.
This is the bane of “Argo”. At the end of the day, it’s the story that holds the movie together. The story that is very compelling, gripping and most of all – true. But it feels as if it was desperately trying to be a documentary when it’s the last thing it should ever aspire to be. While I do understand the need to bring certain issues to light, this story is by far the worst vessel for it. I think we do need to attempt to comprehend that The Revolution of 1979 cannot be spoken about in absolutes. It was a disaster waiting to happen, simply inevitable. Before we even begin to discuss it, it’s imperative that we try and wrap our heads around the sad facts of how people responded to oppression only to allow a different kind of morally uncertain people to take over the reins. However, it cannot and should not be put as a background to a story where the good Yanks have to fend off the bad Muslims. This subject needs more than that and as it stands “Argo” requires too much from the viewer. It’s far too easy to get radicalized while watching this otherwise great story. A story like that should either be presented in a non-emotional way (i.e. a solid documentary) or fictionalized altogether. Or maybe it should have waited in the drawer for a couple of decades until we learn to distance ourselves from certain things and certain topics crystallize into verifiable and unbiased history.