Malicious reality and redundant fear can easily imprison us, but as Argo shows, it's the fantasy of our imagination and unwavering optimism that can set us free and resolve unthinkable dilemmas.
The captivating and alluring drama and sardonic absurdity of Argo is fuelled with ardent passion by the fantasy of a make-believe world (a constructed reality that has beguiled movie-goers since the dawn of cinema), and the rebellions thoughts of an idealist (with Ben Affleck in top form as real-life Tony Mendez, the CIA's best exfiltration officer-a specialist in getting people out of hostile spots). This lethal combination not only allows a flawless film, but allows impossible odds to be trumped.
Life-or-death covert operation
Based on real events, the dramatic thriller chronicles the life-or-death covert operation to rescue six Americans, which unfolded behind the scenes of the Iran hostage crisis. On 4 November, 1979, as the Iranian revolution reached its boiling point, militants stormed the US Embassy in Tehran, taking 52 Americans hostage. Focussing on the little-known role that the CIA and Hollywood played -information that was not declassified until many years after the event.
In 1980, Studio Six Productions trumpeted a new film project that had the elements of a hit sci-fi movie: spaceships, aliens, action and adventure, all happening on an arid, distant planet. Billed as a "cosmic conflagration", the epic feature was never green-lit by any studio chief. As the tagline states: "They weren't making a movie. They were making history."
Argo makes it clear that if we allow the brutality of politics and insane power mongers to hijack our dreams and destroy ambition, there is no hope in even trying to survive. It's all about survival (not only of the fittest, but the strongest of mind) and the key to unlock its triumph over adversity, is innovation, our creative Earth Mother. It is sometimes easy to become victims of circumstance, but if we turn the table positively and conquer our fears and oppressors, the hopeless becomes a possible dream.
It is brilliantly scripted by Chris Terrio, who makes his feature screenwriting debut with Argo; it is based on a selection from The Master of Disguise by Antonio J Mendez and the Wired Magazine article The Great Escape, by Joshuah Bearman.
A first-rate and very low-key performance
Affleck delivers a first-rate and very low-key performance, and also show his visual flair with his skilful direction, using a gritty documentary style to perfectly capture the texture and period of the 1980s. Affleck's vivid and sometime raw approach softens the blow of the political war zone; he does what great directors do best, serving the story and allowing his interpretation and viewpoint never to supersede the events or become gimmicky. As a director and actor, Affleck is indeed one of the masters of his generation, a child of Hollywood whose experience has sharpened the tolls of his storytelling and story-making abilities. He also controls the freedom afforded to his cast, allowing misery, calamity and absurdity to give the film and story a diverse consistency that ultimately leads to complete involvement from the audience, which leaves the cinema with a rewarding and meaningful experience.
John Goodman is sensational in his rendition of real-life John Chambers, who had been awarded an Honorary Oscar for his masks for the original Planet Of The Apes, and also applied his skills to the more serious pursuits of the government's intelligence operations. Equally brilliant is Allan Arkin as an iconic film producer, fictional character who is a composite of people, ranging from actual producers screenwriter Terrio met to some legendary moguls who came to Hollywood and used their street smarts to make it big.
A historic event that changed the world
The brilliance and genius of Argo lies in its almost ridiculous concept, using the deceitful notions of a non-existent futuristic science fiction film to hijack the peril and the futile desperation of a hostage crisis; a historic event that changed the world and the lives of many people and is now applauded with well-deserved awards. That's exactly what makes film such a powerful medium; the enchanting transformation it brings about in cinema-goers, compelling audiences with intelligent and witty stories. It allows us not only to see the effects of change, but equally the affect it has on humanity.
To be human is to have the ability to change, to shift your point of view so that the supremacy of your imagination can embrace impossible dreams. Make sure to not miss Argo and you will start rebuilding your dreams.
Behind the scenes
"To me," said Affleck, "one of the most important themes of the movie is remembering when the United States stood up as a nation to say: 'Thank you, Canada.' None of this would have happened without them, so America will always have a debt of gratitude to our friends to the north."
In today's instant information age, it seems inconceivable that the entire operation remained top secret until it was declassified by President Clinton in 1997. Surprisingly, even after Tony Mendez recounted the events in his 2000 book, Master of Disguise, and, later, Bearman detailed them in Wired, most people remain largely unaware of a story that even Affleck admits "sounds utterly absurd. I understand that, because it seems completely unbelievable, but the fact that it happened is what makes it even more fascinating".
"This operation was a little-known success story in an otherwise difficult chapter in history," said Bearman. "People knew at the time that six Americans escaped with the help of the Canadians a few months into the crisis, but until the operation was declassified years later, no one realised that the CIA had actually led the Americans to safety with such a daring mission and wild cover story."
Daniel Dercksen has been a film and theatre journalist in South Africa the past 30 years and as a trainer and educator has presented regular workshops in scriptwriting and creative writing during the past 17 years.
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