You know about this whole Edward Snowden thing? Remember that stuff? When that NSA guy leaked all those NSA documents showing how the NSA spies on us all in every conceivable way? Here’s a Wikipedia page for you people not in the know, read it and then come back and join us informed people over here, okay great thanks. Everyone else who is (and who should be) interested in who this Snowden whistleblower fella really is and why he did what he did and even how he did it, boy do I got a movie for you.
“Citizenfour” is the kind of documentary that was filmed over a large period of time and shows events as they unfold, day by day, moment to moment, and rightly the people involved knew this was going to be a monumental moment in the history of the United States and dutifully recorded it as it happened, getting us as inside as possible, providing a perspective that could never be replicated in any other way because it is the one true perspective.
The first twenty minutes of the film unfold like a thriller, with filmmaker Laura Poitras, already on the government’s shit list, er, I mean watch list thanks to an Iraq war documentary she made, getting contacted by an anonymous source looking for a trustworthy person. Through the use of encrypted emails and spy-speak pass codes and double talk, they were eventually able to meet after an extended period of time, at which point the first day in a multi-day interview process begins between Snowden and a pair of journalists from The Guardian. They find out who he is and what information he has, and then they discuss the best way to proceed with disseminating the information.
The best part of this interview process is how paranoid every is at this point and really the different levels of paranoia. Snowden, having seen all the files and the programs, is crazy paranoid, like he unplugs the phone in the hotel room because it is a model that has a computer inside it which the NSA can hack into and turn on to turn it into a microphone, and when a fire alarm test is conducted he becomes convinced it is tied to him unplugging the phone. And the journalists get more and more paranoid as the movie progresses, and ends with them having a meeting that consists mostly of them writing things down on pieces of paper and not saying stuff out loud because of the gummit.
In large part this movie is about how Snowden found what he found and his intentions for putting this stuff out there, as altruistic as they seem to him, and then how it gets played in the media and how the government responds to him. He was ready to be called a criminal and sure enough it happened, the US decided to charge him with at least three felonies under an espionage law, which then leads to a very interesting scene in which four attorneys gather together to work on Snowden’s case pro bono and how they determine how fucked Snowden is thanks to politics. But then this movie also becomes about whistleblowing and how people have always felt the need over the years to disclose the bad things they see or the evils perpetuated by their employers, whether they be governments or factory owners or supervillains. Of course the government is going to come down on Snowden and call him all the worst names in the book and paint him as a shadowy figure out for his own self interest, and this film acts as a rebuttal to that response, to that public painting of him as a person who set out to hurt our country by way of exposing our government’s dirty secrets. Dirty secrets which President Obama said they were going to investigate ANYWAY, like jeez, Snowden, you couldn’t just wait a few more months for us to, like, do our thing, man? What a bunch of bullshit.
Anyway, this is a fascinating movie because it really is a big moment in our history and the shit they are talking about in the film has only gotten worse. This is kind of movie that “people need to see” if only because it should really put in perspective what kind of world we live in now and how Orwellian 1984-ish it has all become at this point. Hell, for writing this review, I’m probably on some NSA watch list, so if you interact with me from this point forward, make sure you know the NSA is listening, or at least recording so they can pull it up later, in which case, always remember to say “fuck you, NSA” at the end of every digital communication transmission, because they are fucks, and we deserve better.