The Problem With ‘Snowden’

Film, London


I would like to think of myself as one of Churchill’s children, imbued with a fundamental knowledge of what is required to be a decent, moral person. It puts me on the side of Edward Snowden, and this past week I’ve become fascinated by the backlash against Oliver Stone’s film about him.

In the UK and Europe there’s been no question of Snowden’s role as hero or villain; he’s seen as a right-minded whistleblower on an unaccountable, out-of-control secret organisation that damaged freedom globally in the name of patriotic self-interest. Stone’s film takes this position as read, and paradoxically fails because of it. Despite being the directors’ best film in years it feels if the world has moved on from his simplistic, unquestioning stance. Stone is no intellectual and has gone for the heart here, painting a human portrait of a technician who comes to realise, like those concentration camp clerks, that they are unconsciously facilitating evil.

But it’s not enough. We need to know more. Bearing in mind that knee-jerk Conservatives are going to stay away from the film anyway, we had every right to expect a more demanding, deeper script, an Aaron Sorkin-level study, not Stone going back to basics for half the film to give us Internet For Dummies. We get what he did, and the questions we need answered remain closed; at what point did Snowden decide it was imperative to act? How carefully did he weigh up the consequences? Stone damns Obama and Clinton without looking further back into NSA history and how, like the FBI, they became too powerful.

The old Conservative arguments, that Snowden hurt others, aren’t addressed when they should have been. They could have been dismantled and dismissed. There’s a brief acknowledgement that Snowden’s worst fear – that an idiot in the White House might turn the spying programmes against his own people – may come true, but history has already overtaken the film’s stance, going far beyond this overly polite film’s worst nightmares.

And that’s the bottom line – it’s too understated, too happy to let the guilty off the hook, too retro. It should have been more demanding, more angry, and looking to the future – but it’s still worth watching for some heartfelt performances.


4 comments on “The Problem With ‘Snowden’”

  1. Rachel Green says:

    I saw this last night, and have to agree it took an easy, non-controversial line, but I did like the film much more than I expected.

  2. Lynchie says:

    If you want to see how those in power manage to completely ignore facts and consistently lie in the name of “freedom and democracy” without it ever remotely bothering their conscience, I can recommend the 2013 American documentary film “The Unknown Known” directed by Errol Morris. The film is basically a summary of 33 hours of interviews that Morris conducted with Donald Rumsfeld, the former U.S. Secretary of Defense. Throughout, Rumsfeld just lies and lies and lies and continually presents what seems to be his own version of history. When challenged on some of these lies, he simply ignores the historical evidence and makes up his own version of events – or utters some glib remark and grins. Basically, he just doesn’t care what anyone thinks because he knows his lies are already accepted by the majority and that’s all that counts.

    I recall someone saying about Tony Blair at the Chilcot Inquiry that he “convinced himself that his lie was actually the truth” and I believe that is what men and women in power do. If no one in their circle contradicts them, then the lie becomes fact and anyone who ever challenges it is a “traitor”, “conspiracy nut” or “enemy of the people”.

  3. SteveB says:

    I find it impossible to judge either Snowden or Blair at a personal level. I have opinions only about the impact of their actions. Maybe both Stone and I are mellowing with age 😉
    Talking of Churchill: There was a time when men like Churchill and Attlee both had full respect for each other from their very opposing sides. Long gone now, sadly.

  4. John Howard says:

    I would have thought if we were looking for evidence of powerful people ignoring facts and consistently lying we need look no further than the recent Presidential election.

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