Making the case for 'Argo' and the zeitgeist

Posted by · 9:14 am · September 13th, 2012

Some months back I pondered the idea of the dissolving of TomKat — and therefore, a flood of fresh Scientology headlines — adding a little extra leverage to the cause (if you will) for “The Master” this awards season.

The zeitgeist, you see, is a funny thing. It’s malleable in some ways. The world is always torn in a million different directions, strife, discovery, politics and the economy all having their day in some fashion. And if any movie were to take the abstract approach, “The Master” is certainly it. Now that many have seen the film, of course, the Scientology angle has been softened. But the idea of putting one’s faith and fate in the hands of another — government, religion, whatever — is still, and always, relevant.

But sometimes things line up specifically. Sometimes one doesn’t have to connect a lot of dots to present that, say, “Moneyball” tells a story of the difficult, painful process of change for the good around the idea that the sum of all parts is greater than one single entity, and that that reflects where we are as a country (even if that’s 100% true). Sometimes, like with Ben Affleck’s Iran hostage crisis film “Argo,” the reflections are much more defined.

The film premiered at this year’s Toronto Film Festival on the very day Canada closed its embassy in Tehran and announced the imminent expelling of Iranian diplomats from Canada. Meanwhile, the news this week is dominated by the breaching of the US embassy wall in Cairo as well as the storming of the consulate in Libya and the murder of US ambassador Christopher Stevens there. And today, protestors attempted to scale the wall of the US embassy in Yemen. These events eerily feel like scenes ripped right out of the movie, even if they are in response to an anti-Islam film rather than discord over providing asylum for a hated former leader.

But more than that, to take a few steps back, “Argo” is very much about global responsibility. An evergreen notion is what role a country ought to have in the interests of other nations’ prosperity. And “Argo” asks that question to an extent, amid a tale of one man’s responsibility for the six individuals he brazenly attempts to rescue.

“The West – we, the Canadians, the British – are having to examine what our roles have been historically,” Affleck told CBC News at the festival, “what the result has been for our involvement and…what the benefits are of getting into the ‘getting into business with people’ business, in terms of these leaders. I think [‘Argo”s] definitely relevant on a sort of global, political level.”

This kind of thing is putty for an awards season, not to diminish the very real-world nature of things. And earlier this week, Roger Ebert stepped out on a big limb in September of all months: “The winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture will be Ben Affleck’s tense new thriller ‘Argo,'” he declared. His reasoning was the crowd-pleasing nature of the narrative at the fest and his drawing a direct line to many recent Best Picture winners getting their leg-up in Toronto.

But I would suggest there is more to “Argo”‘s play than that. It’s film about the world tearing itself apart while simultaneously trying to mend itself. It’s a film about what we owe rather than what we’re due (even if some think the film owes Canada more than it offers, which I don’t fully understand). It’s a film about the responsibility we have for one another.

And given that it’s also about, well, Hollywood saving the day? That could be a formidable equation indeed.

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