As most people know by now, Snowden is an American computer mastermind, a former CIA employee and former contractor for the U.S. government. In 2013, he leaked classified information from the National Security Agency (NSA) without authorization, essentially making him a fugitive. He never returned to U.S. soil and is currently living in temporary asylum in Moscow, Russia.
Snowden exposed that individual personal freedom and privacy while using the internet — whether someone is searching, sending email, sitting in a chat room, whatever — is virtually non-existent. Average citizens were (and possibly still are) being monitored by security organizations without any justification. In Stone’s movie, the viewer follows Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as he makes his way up the governmental ladder.
At first, he’s on Cloud 9 since he’s always dreamed of having “access to everything,” but he slowly learns that with that access comes a terrible price: invasion of privacy. The very programs he creates are used against the public, allowing the government to access anybody’s social-media accounts for any reason.
It’s interesting to see the personal side of Snowden’s ascension (descent?), the evolution of his relationship with longtime girlfriend, Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley) and his struggle with epilepsy. The public is used to hearing solely about what Snowden did, but not about what caused him to do these things. Understanding his motivations is key to seeing the situation properly, and the movie underscores the necessity of having those difficult conversations about privacy, personal rights and freedoms and the internet’s impact on our lives.
There have been a lot of “internet” movies recently. Is this like those?
Stone is normally a very paranoid director, bringing all potential facets of a conspiracy theory into his movies (as he did in 1991’s JFK), but he shows remarkable restraint here, instead choosing to focus on the emotional side of things. The Fifth Estate, the 2013 film about Wikileaks’ Julian Assange, is similar in subject matter, but it delved too deeply into the hacking and internet-isms, which frequently left the audience alienated. The incessant focus on tech and computer screens wasn’t exactly scintillating, either. Thankfully, Snowden is more personalized and definitely easier to follow.
Will I have difficulty understanding what’s going on?
Possibly, but most likely not. At first, things are convoluted, but don’t worry, Stone and his production team make sure that even someone with zero knowledge of Snowden is able to understand what’s happening.
Is it boring?
Toward the end the film lags, and it might be boring for those who know the nuances of Snowden’s life and career. On the whole, throughout the bulk of the film, there’s enough to keep you entertained. It’s actually a feat on Stone’s part to keep things engaging, especially when everything going on is happening on the internet. He also doesn’t rely on ridiculous movie explainers, like having computer directives named “Top Secret Files,” “Click Here to Delete” and “Classified Project Dossiers” (yes, this happened in a 2016 movie, which shall remain nameless).
Is Gordon-Levitt a convincing Snowden?
Yes, Gordon-Levitt is undoubtedly the best part of the movie. From his voice to his look to his demeanour, he nails the role. He told this reporter that he had a recording of Snowden’s voice on his phone, and listened to it constantly. Without Gordon-Levitt in the role, it’s hard to tell what this movie would have been.
Will I be paranoid afterwards?
Maybe. Knowing the government could be potentially watching you even when your computer or game console is off, is just plain terrifying. There may or may not be a piece of tape over my computer camera now. And before you argue “This is just the U.S.!,” nope. This is the United States, this is the United Kingdom, this is Canada. The wild west of the internet is still untamed, and we’re all wandering that desert together.
So what’s the bottom line?
While it may not be beneficial to be paranoid, it’s a good idea to get informed, and this movie certainly motivates the audience to really take a look at their internet privacy. It also makes you reconsider Snowden if you ever thought of him as a traitor or snake; he put his country’s (and perhaps this world’s) citizens before his own life, exposing violating and illegal practices being conducted by the government. As a biopic, Snowden is not revolutionary, but it is necessary.