Citizen Four won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2015. By the time that award show aired, I had watched the documentary three-or-four times with friends, trying to loop as many people as I could into the film. I had gotten hooked quickly on watching Glenn Greenwald, Ed Snowden, and Laura Poitras duke it out with the rest of the world over this incredibly invasive and pervasive topic of government surveillance. Your government watches you. Don’t rush ahead. Let that sink in. Your government has the ability to look into nearly every aspect of your life, and I imagine most of us don’t even realize we ever signed up for such a thing.
Jump forward to 2016. It’s been two years since Citizen Four dropped on HBO, and three since Edward Snowden flew himself to Hong Kong to disclose state secrets to Glenn Greenwald and The Guardian newspaper. Our country has all but forgotten the fact that Snowden dropped that nuclear bomb of information onto the American public, but if you ask anyone in security work with the government, they haven’t. (Trust me. I just talked to someone on Saturday afternoon who works for the DOD, and his words to me were, “That guy has made our life hell.”)
Directed by the iconic Oliver Stone, Snowden appears to be an only slightly dramatized look into the events that led to 29-year-old Edward Snowden becoming utterly disillusioned with the country he once openly defended, and disclose all he knew to Greenwald, Poitras, and the public. It begins with his time attempting to become Army Special Forces, and after breaking both legs during a training accident, being discharged. From there he is hired by the CIA. He’s clearly the top of his class, acing every exam and test given to him, and being quickly propelled into foreign service in Geneva. It is there that his disillusionment begins.
He is shown how the government, namely the NSA, has the ability to spy on many, many countries in our world, including the USA, without much oversight or law-abiding. No, they’re not just seeing who you talked to, but they can see what you talked about, and even if your computer is ‘asleep’ or your phone is ‘locked’ in your pocket, Snowden learns they can turn on those microphones or cameras and look in. It’s enough to startle any of us, but is it enough to go against a country.
I’ve long since grown disgusted with American politics, but I think, for me, this question has less to do with political parties and more to do with who we are trusting to save us. A lot of politicians promise hope and salvation for people, but scripture is clear that these things come directly from God, and no one else. To trust the system too much is faulty, but I don’t know if that gives us the right to disobey. “Give to caesar what is caesar’s,” is the likely quotation at this point in the conversation, but at what point do we stand up for scripture? Is it just when our government limits our religious freedoms? What about if they limit our freedom to live, as has been seen time-and-time again in the past few years? What about if they limit our freedom to speak freely?
Oliver Stone probably chose to direct this film for many reasons, but I don’t think that the least of these reasons is that he believes it’s important for the people to not blindly follow their government. It’s easy, when we hear about surveillance to respond with, “I don’t have anything to hide.” The sentence is spoken in this film by Snowden’s girlfriend, but he responds like this: bull****. Sure, it’s not a big deal now, but read George Orwell’s 1984, and you’ll see how over the course of many years something like this can and will play out, if unchecked.
Don’t let me convince you though. Go see the movie and do your best to suspend your skepticism about what you see. And if that doesn’t convince you, email me, and I’ll get you a way to watch Citizen Four. I’m not encouraging you to be scared, I do encourage you to be informed, and I imagine if you’re still reading, you’d like to be too.
So, let’s chat! Send in your criticism and questions. I have no blinders on when it comes to my age and naïvety about some things, so give me your ideas.