Country: USA, Germany, UK
Language: English, Portuguese
Director: Laura Poitras
The timing couldn’t be more appropriate to watch this Oscar-winning fact-based documentary about the exclusive coverage of the man behind “PRISM Door”, Edward Snowden and the repercussions afterwards, simply because under the present background of rampant terrorist attacks globally, whether or not each individual’s privacy can be collectively sacrificed in exchange for a possible safeguard of personal safety?
It is really self-evident to see the controversy of the situation, the bare bones of the debate is principle Vs. exigency, which is all based on one presumption that we permit our governments to put surveillance on our daily activities of all the citizens, then all the terrorism can be maximally forestalled. If it is the case, how many of us is willing to do so, to forswear the civil liberty? There is a big question mark for this, since it is glaringly against the canon of democracy where all the Western countries are built upon. If we allow that to happen, it will become a huge setback in human history, more pointedly, surveillance may not be a fail-safe manoeuvre to counter terrorism at all, while its collateral damage would include many unimaginable infringements of each individual’s personal interests, if all the data can be easily at a wrongdoer’s disposal.
So, that’s why we should stand on the same page with director Laura Poitras and her allies in the film, particularly at a time when the dark cloud of probable danger is hovering above everyone’s head, we cannot lose our ground of the nitty-gritty. Largely intriguing human’s innate proclivity of inquisitiveness, CITIZENFOUR cunningly proffers the first-hand exposé of Snowden when he hid in Hong Kong and contacted with journalist Glenn Greenwald and The Guardian reporter Ewen MacAskill to go through the scandalous disclosure, meanwhile simultaneously a camera is recording by Poitras on the spot. Now, since all the sensational hullabaloo has dissipated, one can be in a more poised state to watch this film, not just the big picture, we can get a preview of what’s inside a man like Snowden, his entire process of “coming out”. Poitras selectively and disinterestedly lays out a quite frank introduction of him, what he did is indisputably courageous, but also, as a whistleblower, he is not “the chosen one”, if it were not him, as a matter of time, sooner or later there would be another conscience-aware insider to speak out, the scheme of NSA (USA National Security Agency) is simply too massive to cover, thus more crucially, we should turn our target to them and fish out how that plan can be engineered through all the bureaucracy, yet, this is far from a perfect world, at least for now, the answer is moot.
After Snowden left Hong Kong, Poitras’ camera can no longer focus on him but on Greenwald and others, whom she has approach to film, what happens doesn’t register the same intensity, since anyone who has a healthy common-sense knows which side we should lean on. There is a final reel of watching Snowden’s life with his girlfriend in Moscow, no close-up, but medium-shot, soon the film also brings down its curtain, savours of a tad dissatisfaction.
As one interviewee mentions, Snowden’s whole adventure sounds like a John le Carré novel, so surreal but it is indeed a cast-iron fact, Poitras’ documentary serves best as an awareness-agitating gateway to invite us to inspect our own government and resist the temptation of a pipe dream – there is no deus ex machina in solving a deep-rooted social problem. With regard to cinephiles, this film might as well serve as an inviting amuse-gueule for the upcoming Oliver Stone’s adaptation, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, let’s wish it will be at least remotely le Carré-esque in light of Stone’s recent patchy productions.