Snowden – A Caught Man to a Free Man, Paying Freedom’s Price


Left, Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Right, Edward Snowden

Helping his country to make a difference, de oppresso liber or moving from being a caught man to a free man, began with a test for the man who called himself Citizenfour, Edward Snowden (b.1983). He wanted to join the CIA after having to leave the army because of problems with the bones in his legs.

Seeking to live the enlightenment, Edward Snowden took the entry test whose average time was five hours. 38 minutes later he quietly went up to the front desk to ask supervisor Corbin O’Brian (Rhys Ifans) what he would do now, as he waits for everyone else involved to finish. “Whatever you want” was the delighted answer!

Edward Snowden first employed by the CIA until he resigned, and then by many of its government agencies as a gifted computer analyst and expert, discovered however after a while, that he had ongoing issues with the covert operations of the NSA (National Security Agency).


Director, producer, writer, Oliver Stone

Brought to the silver screen by American Academy Award winning film director, screenwriter and producer Oliver Stone, SNOWDEN is a film based on the ongoing story about Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt)

His release in 2013 of some tens of thousands of secret documents revealed that in all the highest aspect of government in America officials on every level were indeed crossing and blurring the lines between morality and government.

American computer professional, former Central Intelligence Agency employee and former contractor for the US government Edward Snowdon’s revelations generated unprecedented attention to issues surrounding privacy intrusions and digital security.

He made a decision to copy files and leak classified information to select members of the world media community, because he wanted to alert US citizens about how their human rights were being violated on a daily basis by those entrusted with the protection of their human rights.

By extension this can be expanded to include all those people who imagine they are indeed, citizens of a free world as many other governments are involved.

“I don’t want to live in a world where everything I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity and love or friendship is recorded” said Snowden.


SNOWDEN: Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt)

Today we are challenged to be the change that we want to see in society.

The actions of Edward Snowden have led to a global debate on the issue of whether it is morally right that governments can, or should trade in private information about its citizens under the heading of ‘security’, which today as a consequence of technology and terrorism has become western government and civilization’s main priority.

This position has been brought about by our fascination with technology; when we don’t read terms and conditions, when we trust people Online we have never met one on one, and by allowing those clever at psychology to get inside our minds and manipulate them.

Some call SNOWDEN a traitor and want him brought to ‘justice’. Others call him a hero and want put him on a pedestal.

The film points out how hard it is these days to say something is either just ‘right’ or wrong’. There are indeed now more than fifty shades of gray in between.

And, if we do raise him up high will we be there to support him as he falls?


Melissa Leo as Laura Potrias in SNOWDEN

According to a report in Vanity Fair:

The N.S.A. laid bare in Snowden’s documents is an agency that has the capacity to collect data about virtually every phone call made in America, not to mention hundreds of millions of calls overseas.

In order to collect even broader swaths of data, the agency works with its British counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), to intercept communications traveling over fibre-optic cables running between the data centres of Internet companies. The N.S.A. has infiltrated video games, cell-phone apps, and every corner of the digital universe, looking for suspicious activity.

Whenever it came up against a locked door online, protected by encryption, the N.S.A. attempted to break in, both by attacking specific encrypted material and by creating weaknesses, or “back doors,” in encryption platforms. Inevitably, much of the information amassed—in fact, most—was about ordinary American citizens suspected of no wrongdoing.

Deciding where the line is you won’t cross will more than likely prompt you to ask yourself the question ‘would I become a whistle-blower?


Melissa Leo as American documentary film director-producer Laura Portrias, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Edward Snowdon , Tom Wilkinson as The Guardian intelligence reporter Ewen MacAskill and Zachary Quinto as investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald in SNOWDEN

SNOWDEN was only 29 years of age with his whole life before him when he covertly arranged to meet renowned investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto), The Guardian intelligence reporter Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson) and American documentary film director-producer Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo) in June 2013. It took a lot of planning.

The fearless four came together in a hotel room at The Mira in Hong Kong where over four days ‘Citizenfour’ as SNOWDEN called himself, dispassionately related his story to them all as Poitras behind the camera, recorded ever moment and every word.

Greenwald has since confirmed that he read all the documents Snowden had given him. He also says “The most shocking and significant stories have yet to be reported,”* he said.


Zachary Quinto as investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald in SNOWDEN

Pillows were stuffed around the door and mobile phones placed inside a microwave so they would extend the time when officials would finally track down where they are, so that they can interact together and ask SNOWDEN the really hard questions.

When they were finished he passed the documents over to Greenwald. Finally persuaded not to remain anonymous, he identified himself on camera, before deleting everything from his own computer and leaving in an attempt to fly to Ecuador via Moscow for purposes of asylum.

He didn’t ever reach his destination, caught out at Moscow airport he was unable to go on.

The facts of the encounter in Hong Kong are undeniable. What SNOWDEN had to say a matter of public record thanks to Poitras who spent her time capturing it all so that we would all have the ability to decide what it all means for ourselves.

Being responsible for other people’s lives can be very scary. Other contenders in his story are Hank Forrester (Nicolas Cage), Janine Gibson (Joely Richardson), Trevor James (Scott Eastwood) and Robert Tibbo (Ben Chaplin) all of whom have a part to play, the actors equipping themselves well.

SachaIt is a casual acquaintance Gabriel Sol (Ben Schnetzer) who shows Edward Snowden how all those things people don’t make public are accessible.

When Snowden asks him ‘which people’ he remarks ‘the whole kingdom Snow White’ indicating that his friend is naive in not realizing the NSA is tracking every cell phone in the world.

A scene with Corbin towering over Snowden on a video link where he moves toward the camera to become an intimidating figure is very telling.

The story while it is light on background for all of the individuals involved except SNOWDEN reveals the depth and breadth of the spying scandal exposed, the consequences of which are still ongoing.

Rhys Ifans as Corbin O'Brian, Edward Snowden's Supervisor at CIA

Rhys Ifans as Corbin O’Brian, Edward Snowden’s Supervisor at CIA

As it stands the movie is well over 2 hours long, and could be turned into a television mini series, there is so much content to embrace.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performance is so superbly understated there is a point where you realize how brilliantly it is delivered because it is hard not to be convinced you are watching real events as they happen.

This is a huge compliment to both Oliver Stone and Gordon-Levitt’s abilities to create.

snowden-8In making judgments based on what you see, you will need to strike a balance between sympathy, self-fulfillment and acting beyond self.

Universalism, the recognition of the rights of others, is also critical. For instance, one of the revelations is that the NSA was monitoring the cell phone of the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, which must have had political implications and repercussions.

Former CIA director and NSA chief Michael Hayden observed, ‘… it’s not just the buckets he’s dumping – he’s revealing the plumbing’.

Watching Edward Snowden moving from becoming at first aware of what was really happening to the reality of it all sinking in, is indeed compelling.

SNOWDEN himself appears at the end of the film, leaving us struck immediately by his state of youth and asking ourselves the question should he be arrested or awarded?


Snowden smuggled his mini drive of documents in his Rubik’s cube

Soldier, traitor, spy, hero, hacker and-or a patriot, the publicity for the American film Snowden says ‘you don’t have to pick a side, but you will.

It asks us the question – what price will we have to pay to cater for all of us feeling ‘secure’ all of the time? Where are the lines of morality drawn now, the ones we should not cross.

It also proves the whole concept of a government being able to offer its citizen’s complete security is a fantasy we all continue to buy into… leaving us vulnerable and perhaps unable to learn how to navigate ourselves through the minefields of the future.

Both the battle and war has changed forever.

In light of the news Yahoo has confirmed a huge data breach recently, we are all endangered by the thought …the more you look the less you see.

‘There never did, there never will, there never can exist a parliament, or any description of men, or any generation of men, in any country, possessed of the right or the power of binding and controlling posterity to the ‘end of time…every generation must be as free to act for itself, in all cases, as the ages and generation which preceded it’


Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and CIA Supervisor in SNOWDEN

Both a moral and political philosophy, social humanism had its roots in Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man, and the ideas and philosophies of the European eighteenth century enlightenment.

It was in so many ways a celebration of reason, the power by which man understands the universe and improves his own condition as knowledge, freedom, and happiness became goals for all humankind.

The idea that freedom from religious oppression and economic growth driven by commerce and scientific endeavour would combine to make people’s lives unarguably better was integral to the debate, as indeed was how the arts, manufactures and commerce should be aligned.

However no one really was able to foresee the position humankind would be in due advances in technology


Nicolas Cage as Hank Forrester in SNOWDEN

English-American political activist, controversialist, philosopher, political theorist, and revolutionary Thomas Paine (1737-1809) asserted … that everything and every form of government should have its limits…

‘Rights acquired through clear contract or agreement deserve every protection: even if subsequent generations are at liberty to question the laws of the nation and to alter them as they will, they are not at liberty to invade the property rights of people secured through past agreements’.

A great deal about his life and about the value and interpretation of his work is today still deeply contested and promises to remain so.

Laura Poitras flew to Berlin after the meeting with Edward Snowden in Hong Kong to edit her source material, because she was afraid it would be seized if she returned to the States.

Her resultant documentary Citizenfour won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature of 2014, featuring Snowden as a trapped political agent.


Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Edward Snowden and Shailene Woodley as Lindsay Mills in SNOWDEN

SNOWDEN who made it out of Hong Kong as far as Moscow, still resides there as a guest of its government. His girlfriend Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley) who was integral to the story is at his side.

Billed as a ‘politically-charged, pulse-pounding thriller, Snowden is a hero to some a traitor to others, however I would like to suggest he sits on the cusp of both.

He is at that point where he reminds us all of our own vulnerability if we don’t engage with and hold those elected and unelected officials in government whom we trust with our security and our lives, to account.

Everything we do today is tainted with emotion. Both the film SNOWDEN and the documentary Citizenfour to my mind should be required viewing, and the content and concepts debated in the senior years of High Schools, Colleges and Universities.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016

Watch the Movie Trailer

Watch Snowden being interviewed by Laura Poitras





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