Wednesday, November 7, 2012

"We Need a Moses": A Review of the Film, "Argo"

Pretty high on the nightmare scenario lists would be being trapped in a small place surrounded by enemies trying to kill you. Especially if you doubt that anyone knows where you are and there is no hope for rescue.

That was the situation for six American citizens a little more than thirty years ago in Tehran, Iran. Muslim extremists (including, it is widely believed, the current President of Iran) captured the Untied States embassy taking almost all inside as captives; except for two women and four men who escaped through a side door to find sanctuary in the home of the Canadian ambassador.

The six knew that if word got out about their location, they would surely be captured and executed. And they had no reason to believe that any rescue would come.

“Argo”, the new film directed by Ben Affleck, tells the unbelievable-if-it-weren’t-true story of the joint effort of the CIA with the Canadians to save those six members of the U. S. State Department.

Affleck also stars in the film as Tony Mendez, a CIA agent who specializes in retrieving people from hostile countries and dangerous situations; a specialty nicknamed a “Moses”. After the Iranian revolution dispelling the Shah, few Americans were welcome in the country, and those were watched with a careful eye.

So Mendez came up with what sounded like a hair-brained scheme: pretend the six are part of film crew, scouting out Iran as a location for filming a cheap “Star Wars” rip-off called “Argo”.

The film does a wonderful job of building tension around a story that is already history (though some of the details have only recently become declassified). There are grim and violent images throughout the film, but it still maintains a macabre sense of humor.

(Comparisons to the recent handling of the attack on the embassy in Libya are hard to avoid. And incredibly, the current administration manages to fail in comparison to the low bar of competence set by the Carter Administration.)

There is also fun to be found in mocking the seventies-tastic fashion in the film (owl lens glasses, polyester galore, etc.) and spotting a TV familiar cast (“Hey, isn’t that the coach from ‘Friday Night Lights’ as Hamilton Jordan?” and “What’s the dad from ‘Malcolm in the Middle’ doing working for the CIA?”)

The film will surely be remembered at Oscar time because some of the heroes are Hollywood figures. In order to present a believable cover, Mendez turns to film professionals such as John Chambers (played by John Goodman), who won an Oscar for his make-up work on “Planet of the Apes”.)

While living the nightmare in Iran, the six refugees are visited by Mendez, who promises rescue if they will follow him. Some of the six believe and some doubt. Just as when Moses came to the Israelites in Egypt and promised rescue, some believed and some scoffed. When one of the six argues that Mendez is putting their lives at risk, another points out that Mendez was willing to rescue his own life to rescue them. Moses took the same risk when he came to Egypt. (Go back and read the story in the first chapters of Exodus.)

Of course, we all are in the nightmare scenario. We are trapped in a world that only offers death as an exit. It might seem like there is no rescue possible.

But God Himself became our Moses. We remember at this time of year how God’s Son was willing to give up all He had to enter our world and provide a rescue. As John described it in his gospel, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14, NIV)

(“Argo” is rated R for violence and very strong language, including an obscene use of the title that I admit made me laugh.)

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