It’s a really sharp ethical dilemma, about which I am fiercely
Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) had a rough start:
he didn’t even graduate from high school, because, he says, his
parents got divorced and he needed to work.
Afterwards, neither parent seemed to be any part of his life.
Ed Snowden joined the Army, tried out for the Rangers, and
somewhere in the middle of training at Ft. Benning, he suffers stress
fractures on both legs, and he’s administratively discharged.
But he still wants to serve his country.
So he applies as a systems analyst, and though he doesn’t have
the educational background, he’s got one thing they need:
an incredible aptitude for the work.
A “self-taught” programmer, and amateur hacker, he blows the
top off their entrance exams, and his rapid ascendancy through the lower
ranks doesn’t go unnoticed. After
a couple of years of “paying dues” in jobs that didn’t challenge his
intellect, he gets offered the position he coveted:
working for the CIA. Anti-terrorism
unit. Exactly what he feels
like he was “made” to do.
Yes, the CIA was tracking terrorist cells through technology:
by tracking their cell phones, and spying on them with drones,
satellites, and yes, even old-school field operatives.
And it was satisfying, especially post-9/11, to strike back.
But Snowden soon discovers that there is a collateral cost:
not only are innocent bystanders killed in the Middle East, but
innocent civilians everywhere are being monitored.
Without their knowledge or consent.
And not just in foreign countries, but also in the United States.
Snowden is chagrined that programs he helped develop are used for
this continuous monitoring (he thought he was only developing an emergency
backup plan). A field
assignment didn’t make things any better;
there, working with an NSA operative, he learned that dirty tricks
are routinely used to blackmail people into providing insider information.
Gradually, the naïve and idealistic Snowden (dubbed “Snow
White” by one of his co-workers) begins to realize that in the end,
people’s rights as private citizens were being trampled in the name of
“national security,” and either nobody cared, or everybody was cowed
and intimidated into silence and compliance.
Snowden’s attempts to lead a “normal” life are personified by
his sweet, lively girlfriend, Lindsay (Shailene Woodley), who tries to get
him to relax, smile, walk around outside, and enjoy the sunshine. But
Snowden is now too much the overwrought techie-nerd, because he’s so
good at it. It’s just that
his conscience bothers him so much that he begins to contemplate the
unthinkable: exposing the
government’s over-reach, with the cost of not only revealing classified
information, but also ending his short-lived career (he’s still not even
30), and opening himself to harassment, ridicule, and possibly
Right now, Edward Snowden is residing in Moscow, where he has been
granted temporary asylum. If
he returns to the U.S.A., he’ll face charges of treason.
But he’s also considered a kind of alt-cult hero for championing
the cause of personal freedom and governmental transparency, even at the
sacrifice of a “normal” life for himself.
So, is he a hero or a traitor?
Strangely enough, the truth is in the viewer’s perception.