by Bonnie Anderson and Dan Webster
“When someone reveals that government officials have routinely and deliberately broken the law, that person should not face life in prison at the hands of the same government.” – (9/20/16 NYTimes full page ad by ACLU, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch)
There is a long list of citizen whistle-blowers who have tried to hold their government accountable over time. Now Oliver Stone brings a poignant and timely political docudrama to the screen that is crafted around the intellectual brilliance and troubled moral dilemma of Edward Snowden, whistle-blower and former National Security Administration (NSA) staff who publicly revealed an incredibly vast system of American surveillance and spyware.
Snowden, a contemporary American who remains exiled in Russia since 2013, is artfully portrayed as the film vividly brings alive the confusing times in which we live.
The audience will do well to remember the political climate in the country following 9/11. The Patriot Act “armed law enforcement with new tools to detect and prevent terrorism.” — (Justice Dept. Field Report). The Act did abrogate some sections of the Constitution. Justified torture, rendition, secret interrogations and an offshore prison for suspected terrorists held without charges, trials or legal recourse contributed to a very dark time for Americans.
The film switches between the “Guardian” newspaper interview of Snowden in his Hong Kong hotel room and the events he is conveying to the journalists. The technique is simple for the audience to follow and provides an easily understandable timeline of events.
Although the film does not equate Snowden’s moral dilemma to his unreferenced spirituality, there is an obvious link between his intolerance for perceived intervention and, in some instances, killing of the people targeted for U.S. surveillance.
Be prepared to be challenged by the age-old question of the relationship between God and Country and the task of determining your priority between the two. Put yourself in Snowden’s place. What would you do and why?
Bonnie Anderson is a very active lay leader in her parish, diocese and in the wider Episcopal Church. She is an experienced community organizer and lives in suburban Detroit. Dan Webster is an Episcopal priest in Baltimore, Maryland and a former broadcast news executive. But don’t expect only east coast urban perspectives here. As it turns out, they both grew up in Southern California. They blog about films and faith at Faith Reels