Oscar material

Argo, 2012 Academy Award winner, is not a political thriller, like the political thrillers of the 1960s and 70s, or, more recently, Syriana (2005), A Mighty Heart (2007) or Fair Game (2010). Rather, it is a thriller with a political-historical background: the escape from Iran of six US embassy members passing as a film crew scouting locations for sci-fi film during the first months of the ayatollahs' takeover. What's important in the film is not the exploration of US involvement in Middle East politics and efforts to control oil nor is it the assessment of Iranian politics under the ayatollahs. Rather, it uses all of those as the setting for the "true story" of a conventional US hero who, with the usual qualities of individualism, healthy disregard for authority and rules, inventiveness, improvisation and plenty of courage, gets his job done against frightful odds. Ben Affleck doesn't spare any of these features on himself (well, his character), and even his estranged wife (who doesn't even get a line) takes him back when it's all over. Yet, Argo is not exactly the opposite of the films mentioned above. Rather than two clearly differentiated types, there are gradations. Those films also had heroes, although a lot less successful than Affleck’s protagonist, and Argo also features the political situation, sometimes prominently. This is the case of the opening sequence, which provides us with the historical background to the Shah’s demise and puts the blame squarely on the shoulders of successive US and British governments. The critique of Western policy, however, is immediately diluted: once their just grievances are established Iranians remain anonymous fanatics only intent on torturing and murdering Americans, and the greed of Western political and economic interests is, as if by magic, replaced by the superhuman yet ordinary American hero. It is as if, by packing “all the politics” in the first five minutes, the movie is trying to exonerate itself of ideological attacks while forcefully reasserting American overwhelming superiority, not through political analysis or even moral evaluation, but through the exciting antics of the hero. Is the film saying, we know we did some things wrong in the past but, let’s be serious, the well-being of a few million Iranians is just not comparable of that of six US citizens? Or is it saying, these Iranians are a bunch of fanatics and they deserve to be ridiculed and humiliated by the good guys? Why exactly do the filmmakers choose to start the film with what is presented as historical accuracy for history to then fizzle out as if it didn’t exist? How does history contribute to the entertainment value of Argo? Why, if just a piece of innocent entertainment, did it get the Oscar? 

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