Oliver Stone has quite the track record when it comes to biopics. With three films based on former United States Presidents (JFK, Nixon, and W.), and an additional feature about the man who is arguably the most influential leader in the history of Western Civilization (Alexander) he is no stranger to the complexity of the human spirit caught in flight between the firmament of absolute truth and the gravity of the world as it is, with mankind’s jealousy and corruption dragging down the state. These men all stood on the precipice of a great decline – a potential implosion of their societies – and in their own respective ways tried to arrest the decay and abuses they saw eating at their populations.
So too, Snowden. The character studies his previous films became have been criticized by some for being sympathetic. But for his own part, Stone has insisted sympathy was never his goal. In an industry that has relied on the formula of the Hero’s Journey, Oliver Stone has attempted many times to break the mold and create a fresh perspective for informed audiences of his historical dramas. With Snowden we finally watch this alternate narrative truly flourish. The audience isn’t left loving or hating Edward. Instead we gain an understanding of the weight of this man’s convictions. This understanding forces the viewer to question himself and in that way develop empathy for the subject. Could you stand against the great beast? How would you endure, not knowing if you’d be destroyed by a seemingly all-powerful super state or exonerated by the people it was supposed to protect?
During a recent interview at the Harvard Institute of Politics, Stone told Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind that he initially had turned down the option to make the film. It’s not usually a good investment to tell the story of someone who is still making headlines. The potential to be blindsided by some startling and unforeseen revelation is too great, in which case the integrity of the film you’ve made is irreparably damaged. It was only after being contacted by Ed Snowden’s Russian lawyer – who has also authored an untranslated spy novel about a conflicted whistle blower – that Stone began to warm up to the idea. Meeting Snowden in Moscow several times, the director learned there was an opportunity to tell a story that would persuade theater-goers to question both themselves and the government.
The factual basis for the film comes from Luke Harding’s The Snowden Files. I have to say after spending the last weekend reading the book, Oliver Stone’s adaption of the text was responsible and accurate. Edward Snowden was Right-wing. A Ron Paul libertarian who kept a pocket-sized copy of the United States Constitution on his desk when contracted to the NSA, so as to wave it around whenever the case needed to be made that his employers were violating both his own ethical standards and the letter of the law. This tendency to champion principled stances may garner sympathy from a curious onlooker of the Snowden case, but did nothing to ingratiate him to his former employers. In one such case bad blood between him and a superior resulted in a disciplinary action that went on his permanent record. Surely this kind of experience contributed to his disillusion with the agencies he worked for (of which there were many).
I can’t help but take some issue with the casting. The roles of Edward Snowden and girlfriend of ten years Lindsay Mills are both performed by Jewish leads. Shailene Woodley is entirely too Semitic-looking to portray Mills. In reality Edward Snowden’s girlfriend was a wonderful example of white feminine beauty. Woodley on the other hand is yet one more sorry attempt at crypsis. Her inability to convincingly portray the beauty of her character is in stark contrast to her co-star immersing himself in the speech, nervous tics, and body language of Edward Snowden.
I’ve been a fan of Joseph Gordon-Levitt since he began working with Christopher Nolan (Inception and Dark Knight Rises). It was after viewing those films I sought out some of his early work. One of the most notable attributes that I’ve seen him employ in Looper (2012), Don Jon (2013), and The Walk (2015) is his skilled voice acting. The man has “presence” whether sitting down or standing in a somewhat aloof manner (as in the movie poster pictured above). There are moments captured in the film – from an angle, under the right lighting – where Gordon-Levitt looks convincingly like Snowden. But he consistently sounds like Snowden. His ability to affect the voice while having an argument with girlfriend that builds gradually in both decibel level and emotional intensity shows his command of this precious gift of mimicry. Though it may seem out of place for a nationalist to give such praise of a Jewish actor, my own standard of measurement is the ability to create an authentic representation of the subject’s identity. There are not many Jews I care to see playing whites. Far too many are paid to do so. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of the few I make an exception for, and only because I’ve seen him do such an excellent job in other films.
Snowden is a dramatization of events in its subject’s life and around the globe between 2004 and 2013. The film follows Edward Snowden’s trials and tribulations leading up to his decision to leak classified documents about the massive surveillance state that has been built under and around a sometimes scared, sometimes complacent American populace. The revelation that cellphone service providers and manufacturers were colluding with that surveillance state is at the heart of this betrayal of American liberties. Well-paced, it shows the struggle of coping with his washout from military boot camp. The early rumblings of his defiant nature become apparent as he walks away from the intelligence community for a little while, trying to find some kind of normal. To be happy. To drink the nepenthe of social assimilation. To no avail . . .
The opening familiarizes us with the now-famous meeting under the plastic alligator between Snowden and the investigative team of Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, the latter of whom shot the Academy Award-winning documentary Citizenfour (2015). Snowden shows eventually with his totem – a Rubik’s cube – in hand. He looks unassuming. The two journalists would later admit that they had expected someone much older. What follows is a dramatic re-enactment of the filming of Citizenfour with accompanying flashbacks that inform the audience of what took place leading up to Edward Snowden’s fateful act of disseminating classified documents to the news.
Snowden worked as a contractor for the NSA and CIA. He also worked directly as a system engineer and later senior adviser to the CIA. It is at the CIA training center in Virginia that he meets the character of Hank Forrester, a reformer turned basement dwelling guidance counselor for new recruits. Later in the film, Forrester recounts the story of his own exile to this subterranean office as a result of filing complaints about the agency’s overreach in domestic surveillance.
The character of Forrester is played by Nicholas Cage and seems to be inspired by real life NSA code breaker and whistle blower William Binney. Binney is a veteran US intelligence official with over thirty years of experience. In Poitras’ documentary Binney explains how he built Stellarwind, the favored program for domestic spying post-September 11. What both Poitras in in Citizenfour and Stone — through the character of Forrester — omit is that Binney was a fan of Snowden’s leaks up to and until he revealed the IP addresses of targets hacked in China and Hong Kong. Expressing concern that those operational details were revealed, Binney is quoted by USA Today that Snowden “is going a bit to far” and “is transitioning from whiteblower to traitor.” For his part Binney has continued to speak out against the NSA spying on and profiling the public, and has been a critic of the abuses committed by both the Bush and Obama administrations.
Leaving Forrester to his devices (dusting off unbroken WWII machines used for cryptography), Snowden reports for an aptitude test where he and his class are warned that “the next nine eleven will be your fault.” He blows away the competition, finishing the task asked of him hours before anyone else.
Having never finished high school and attended only sporadic courses at community college, Edward is seemingly an autodidact. He spent time developing his own libertarian perspectives and posting on the hip techie site Ars Technica. A creature of the silicon revolution, Snowden meets his girlfriend Lindsay Mills at an internet cafe. She’s a liberal photographer and dance instructor whose parents had also worked for the government. She giggles at Snowden’s throwaway line that he “works for the State Department.”
As Snowden’s training evolves, the fundamental ethical questions are reviewed in class, and learns about FISA courts. Told that FISA served to classify court-issued warrants for spying as to not alert the subjects that are being monitored, he reconciles his libertarian inspired reservations to the government abrogation of the fourth amendment protection against search and seizure. In a scene where he returns for a chat with Forrester he listens to the veteran expressed cynicism, claiming “what really sets the agenda is Military Industrial Happiness Management.” In other words: keep the money flowing.
Returning to that Hong Kong hotel room in 2013, the group is joined by Ewan MacAskill — a Scottish writer who became DC Bureau Chief at the Guardian. Snowden’s intentions are now subject to inquiry. Why do this publicly? He assures them he is not out for money. Public exposure is required for his own safety, to avoid rendition.
But one must still ask why Snowden did this at all. Snowden isn’t a narcissist. He was a Ron Paul libertarian. Someone who believed in self-reliance, self-education, and personal freedom. The man who loved the constitution so much he kept a copy of it on his desk when worked at the NSA. He loved hacking. The only gun he owned was a Walther P22, and he loved that too. He tried to go into special force, and would have loved it as well if the seriousness of his injuries hadn’t taken him out of training. He was a man in love with the quest. The type of man who rose to the occasion when challenged. He had been deployed for field work in Switzerland, given diplomatic cover to work with CIA field agents and maintain their computer security network. This was where he was given a derogatory performance report as a result of office politics. He had demonstrated to his immediate supervisor that one of their websites could be hacked, but was then reprimanded by that man’s superior. The bad blood had stemmed from a petty email spat between Snowden and his superior. Snowden had been keen for a promotion and challenged the man’s judgment (The Snowden Files, 22).
This was a time of disillusion. It was also in Geneva that he learns of the full extent of US government intrusion into the lives of others. Finally an incident with a Swiss banker eroded any remaining faith (The Snowden Files, 22). In the film this is depicted as an Indian banker whose daughter tries to overdose on sleeping pills after her Turkish boyfriend is deported form the country. The physical removal of which is thanks to the hacking skills of his team. An open look into the private social media correspondence revealed how in love she was, and with a few keystrokes more they learned he and his mother had overstayed their visas. But in the film this all seems to be geared at tugging the strings of a bleeding heart. Two white men manipulate this poor immigrant into drinking away his sorrows and then put him in a car and call the police — setting him up for a criminal charge after gaslighting his daughter into a suicide attempt.
The nature of the surveillance is revealed early on. Gone were the selective investigative measures that would reveal correspondence without identity. Anyone remotely connected to a target of inquiry through social media is subject to intense scrutiny and manipulation. I’m reminded of the six degrees of separation. In the film, they demonstrate quite succinctly that three hops from anyone on the internet is everyone else.
It was there and then he resigned. He tells Lindsay (now his live-in girlfriend) that he’s quitting out of principle. Barack Obama is elected the next year and for the sake of change – just for a moment – he believes in the hope promised by the campaign of the new President-Elect. Like William Binney, he would quickly learn that things would only hit terminal velocity.
The film returns again to a dark Hong Kong hotel room with Greenwald, Poitras, and MacAskill listening intently to Snowden’s account of the past few years of his life. Joseph Gordon-Levitt moves to the window at the far side of the room. With half of his face in silhouette he becomes Edward Snowden. The light of a taxicab shines through an elevated store sign, and his face is flushed with the red glow. A thousand-yard stare has him peering beyond the Hong Kong skyline, out into the darkness. Back into the world of shadows he’d inhabited and forward into that future he was desperately fighting to avoid. We leave his time and place, here in this midpoint of the film, and open ourselves to a stream of consciousness. We are shown the insidiousness of centralized control over mass communication. No walls. No doors or ceiling. Open nakedness before an unyielding superstate with godlike indifference to your suffering or dignity. Every fault on display is most people’s idea of the Last Judgment.
The extent of wiretapping and booby trapping the functionality of many allies of the United States begins to unfold, and the cyberwarfare applications put in place are the stuff of Tom Clancy novels. Programs infecting power grids, dams, and hospitals in order to shut down their infrastructure in a matter of keystrokes. An image from space of lights going out suddenly in Japan spreads across the screen. Inside information on every world leader, friend or foe. Trade deals. Scandals. Anything that can be used to gain leverage in global trade and worldwide social control was their true agenda. Terrorism was just the excuse for what they were committing.
Therein lies the existential crisis of Edward Snowden. Why did this young champion of freedom strive and struggle to ascend into the initiatic order of these new guardians of our God-given rights if only to discover the kingdom was already lost? It had been offered up sacrificially sometime ago.
Our longing for liberty is Western Man’s Faustian Soul crying out in the spiritual wilderness of America. Who is the pioneer in the twenty-first century? Did we not conquer this land, conquer the seas that surround it, and pioneer its skies? We’ve traveled through space, and we’ve even charted the depths of our own bloodlines through genetics.
Where then, is the frontier for the untameable white?
It is the fires kindled in the digital realm that set the world ablaze. All to serve a fraction of elites spreading a mutated globalist form of capitalism, they sought the ability to spread mass panic or exercise social control. The American State seemed to desire the ability to institute either chaos or control pragmatically in its ongoing crusade to centralize power — over economy, speech, home, and body — gorging itself on our liberties and roaming through our lives as a hulking Leviathan. A Grendel. The Surveillance State.
The film hits its peak at this midpoint. The liberal spin and casting decisions were endurable for this sake. We watch the development of social technology, camera phones, and remote control drones for hobbyists becoming commonplace as the early naughts gives way to the twenty-teens. The character of Snowden is developed further for the audience through his personal struggles with health issues (he’s having epileptic seizures) and the stress brought on by the eavesdropping and hacking of allies, booby trapping their infrastructure, and, of course, the live feeds of drone strikes he has witnessed. The viewer is in this way led to believe his ailment is related to pressure caused by the job, and it very well may have been true.
Edward prepares himself to leave, escaping with proof of all he has seen copied onto an SD card and hidden in his indispensable Rubik’s cube. It was his favorite 3-D puzzle that would be the pawn that checks the king in the four-dimensional chess match he’d play against the alphabet soup of spyland – NSA, CIA, and GCHQ.
The last half hour is a soft free-fall through headlines and broadcasts regarding the leaks and his new-found fame, punctuated by the dramatization of his escape from arrest and final asylum in Russia.
The film has its merits. For a few moments, it really shines. One piece of movie trivia that may interest some is that in Snowden there are several references to spying programs the media has never reported on. Oliver Stone learned of them from Edward Snowden directly.
Snowden is a liberal-leaning film about a hyper-intelligent member of the Right-wing youth subculture – a gun-loving libertarian whose ethics and worldview are molded by both the Bill of Rights and the Hacker Manifesto. A subculture that serves as an extended phenotype of the white race wherein much of the Alt Right spent biding its time waiting for our movement to congeal. It’s another facet of our white culture that is fertile ground for conversion. Many of the hosts on The Right Stuff Radio Network came from the same milieu. The fourth generational warfare potential of the insider threat should not be lost on any Nationalist watching this film. It disseminates a successful tactic in an easy to swallow form – a “purple pill” for libertarians and constitutionalists. The psychological profile required is of a man that realizes if authority is centralized and it becomes corrupt the most righteous acts of defiance will be anarchic. They will be actions that decentralize authority and collapse institutional power structures under their own critical mass.
Through his biopic we are granted the opportunity to observe and judge Snowden’s personal integrity. In this way Stone was able to deliver authenticity. Though, I wouldn’t (and didn’t) pay for it. These (((people))) don’t need any more of our money. It’s worth a gander if you can see it for free and valuable if used to nudge someone a little more to the Right. A responsible depiction of a young principled white man with a sense of honor standing up for the truth. In that regard Edward Snowden, the man and his mission, have my personal respect.
“The greatest freedom that I’ve gained is the fact that I no longer have to worry about what happens tomorrow because I’m happy with what I’ve done today.” — Edward Snowden, 2016