The movie Argo is spectacular, and you should see it.
Argo is based on the true story widely known as “The Canadian Caper.”
Basic History: In 1979, the U.S. embassy in Tehran, Iran was taken by dissidents who supported the Iranian Revolution. They held 52 embassy workers captive for more than a year (this is also frequently referred to as the Iran Hostage Crisis). During the seizure of the embassy, six American diplomats managed to escape, and sought refuge in the nearby Canadian and Swiss embassies. Argo relates the story of how the CIA partnered with the Canadian Government in a covert mission to get the six out of Iran. This was accomplished under the cover story that the six diplomats were part of a Canadian film crew scouting locations.
So.. after discovering what this film was about, and discovering the ‘R’ rating, I thought I was probably in for some brutal violence that would cause me to cover my eyes as I watched.
That’s not what I got.
Argo wasn’t good because of the action (there wasn’t nearly as much as you’d expect). It wasn’t good because of Ben Affleck,although he gave a very good performance.
It was good because I felt like my time and money were well-spent on it. I learned a little about my nation’s history, experienced empathy, and considered my place in the world. I was reminded that, while America has its flaw, I’m blessed to have been born here.
On a side-note, the only prior knowledge I had going into the theater last night came from reading Azar Nafisi’s best-selling memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran. For a brief time a few years ago, I was trying to make a book club happen, in spite of the fact that no one I’d recruited seemed able to follow-through with any of our plans. In an effort to make sure people were invested in the book choices, each member of the club got a turn to pick a book, and the first person selected this memoir for us to read.
So I read it, and while I’m still slightly bitter that I was the only person in the club to read all (or really any) of the books in their entirety, I also have to admit that Reading Lolita in Tehran is one of the only books I’ve read as an adult that profoundly impacted my understanding of the world. It wasn’t the best book I’ve ever read, but it depicted a world that was completely foreign to me. I read it before I’d traveled much; I’d been a tourist in Italy, but hadn’t yet lived as a teacher in Mongolia. So I didn’t know what it’s like to sleep in a one-room house with five other people and no toilet. Therefore, the injustices Professor Nafisi included in her story were shocking and enlightening… which is a similar strength in the film Argo. It’s a story about things I’ve never experienced and probably never will, as I hope to live a life safely separated from angry mobs who hate me because of my birth nation, and because the CIA isn’t likely to recruit me as a covert agent anytime soon.
But one of the things I learned in reading Reading Lolita in Tehran is that the greatest value in literature is its effectiveness in teaching empathy for characters we shouldn’t be able to understand.