Mount Holyoke’s chapter of Amnesty International was what truly initiated my respect for Edward Snowden, the man who exposed the United States’ (and Great Britain’s) extensive and global mass surveillance program and ignited a movement to reassert the right to privacy. Our group spent one meeting watching the 2015 documentary Citizenfour as we wrote letters to government officials to ask for the fair trials or release of various prisoners of conscience and otherwise unfairly imprisoned people.
So when the trailer for Snowden came out, I knew I had to see the film (but that it wouldn’t be playing at Tower Theaters). My friend Zoë and I spent seven hours total on our journey, which included taking the B38, grabbing Antonio’s pizza in Amherst (it was delicious), taking the B43 to Hampshire Mall, getting Froyo from Tutti Frutti (also delicious), seeing the film, and slowly making our way back through the bus system clogged with drunk Five College partiers. Pro tip: if you use PVTA to journey to Hampshire Mall’s Cinemark Theaters on the weekend, do it in the morning or afternoon to ensure the buses will have room for you.
We saw Snowden with almost exclusively old liberals. The man next to us would scoff any time there was a poignant or ironic display of the US government’s disregard for privacy. It was encouraging to see older generations engaged with the debate about mass surveillance, particularly because they didn’t grow up with surveillance as a passively accepted norm. The biopic follows Snowden from 2004 to essentially the present, which gave it room to thematically and visually explore the process leading up to the leak. It explains all the basics of what you should know about Snowden, his intentions, as well as what should change in the National Security Agency and beyond.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is hands-down the perfect Edward Snowden. He nailed the voice and mannerisms of the man to a point that didn’t seem calculated or stale, but inspired. Despite all-around strong acting, the film’s power was held back by several lapses in creative execution and cohesion. Snowden and Citizenfour are both powerful for representing a recent and still pressing issue in the world. But in Snowden, creative choices occasionally took away from the realism that benefited Citizenfour. A few shots (steaming glasses, walking into the light) detracted from the illusion of reality because they were inconsistent in their dramatization. Zoë agreed, saying, “The special effects and music were a bit overdone which gave the film an action movie vibe and detracted from the importance of the subject matter. They would have been better off mimicking the style of The Social Network with little special effects and subtle techno music.”
Overall, Snowden was powerful and I am sure the same resurgence of mixed inspiration and outrage I felt after seeing it will resonate with audiences worldwide. If you want to know more about the United States’ rights-violating and invasive surveillance, you can watch a rare interview with John Oliver or VICE. Also, to take a few steps for personal protection, Mount Holyoke offers free virus protection for your personal computer here (it’s available for Macbooks but not recommended), and you can read up on the computer usage agreement of the college here. I also recommend checking out Edward Snowden’s Twitter for updates on his status and advice on what apps and sites to consider in protecting yourself online.
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