So you thought Oliver Stone's Snowden is an intense geopolitical techno-thriller about armed government agents chasing down the hacker who became the world's most famous whistleblower? Well, Snowden is actually more than just a biopic about the guy at the center of a massive worldwide political scandal. It's actually a love story.
Snowden follows its protagonist (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) from his days as a high school dropout who enlists in the military to his experience with the CIA, where he begins working as a cyber security expert. Eventually, he feels that the government's data monitoring violates the privacy of U.S. citizens and people around the world. His colleagues describe him as a “genius among geniuses."
The real-life Snowden, as we know, provided Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald with details about the government's Top Secret high-intensity surveillance program, which allowed it to access individuals through their phones and laptops. After Snowden revealed his identity, he was charged by the U.S. Department of Justice under the Espionage Act. He sought asylum overseas, eventually winding up in Russia, where he remains in exile today, hoping for a pardon before his asylum expires in 2017.
The Movie Is About Snowden The Boyfriend, Just As Much As Snowden The Whistleblower
Stone’s adaptation of the story is vaguely dramatized, with a focus on Snowden’s love life that adds a human note to his extreme situation. Although Snowden adamantly wanted Greenwald's story to stray away from him as the source — and more on the actual issue — the Snowden film reveals a uniquely intelligent and thoughtful young man.
Snowden likewise tells the story of his longtime girlfriend, Lindsey Mills, played by Shailene Woodley. The film reveals that the unlikely couple met through a dating website. She was just your everyday ambitious photographer who pole-danced and worked as an acrobat. Woodley represents her as a strong-willed and opinionated liberal, who sticks by Snowden despite his stressful and consuming job with the government.
As the real-life Snowden revealed in the Academy Award-winning documentary Citizenfour, Mills had no idea what he was about to unleash. He admitted that he left her a note while she was away on vacation, telling her that he would be gone for a while for work (which was not unusual for his position as a contractor). Despite the pressure that his decision forces on their relationship, Snowden shows immense concern for Mills and the rest of his family.
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"The World's Worst Boyfriend"?
Morally bound, Snowden risks a normal life and the chance to perhaps ever see his love (or his family) again in order to tell the public the truth. As the real Edward Snowden joked by video at a recent Q&A with Stone titled #SnowdenLive that we attended, one of the scenes in the movie — an argument between Gordon-Levitt and Woodley — "made me look like the world's worst boyfriend."
It's technically a spoiler, but anyone who follows Snowden or Mills on social media knows that she ultimately joined him in Russia a year after the NSA story went viral. Mills still writes her blog and practices her photography, and the two maintain a relationship, giving true meaning to the phrase "for better or for worse."
Viewers can only imagine the scrutiny and unease Snowden has faced over the past three years. The debate is still raging about his actions, and the U.S. House Intelligence Committee recently declared his actions caused "tremendous damage." But as Snowden said at the #SnowdenLive event, "Arguing that you don’t need privacy because you have nothing to hide is like arguing that you don’t need free speech because you have nothing to say."
Snowden makes a lot of political points, but it also lets the audience glimpse into the private life of an American who wanted to tell the truth about privacy.
Snowden is now playing in theaters.