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“They” are Listening: “CITIZENFOUR” Review

By Bill Arceneaux
@BillReviews

Comparing my generation of “Millennials” to WW2’s “Greatest Generation” would be grossly unfair; hands down, my grandparents win. All you have to do, really, is go out and watch the new movie The Imitation Game starring the great Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, whose mission to crack the Nazi Enigma code lead to what we take for granted when working on computers. In that film, he develops a way to break and analyze data by way of recognizing phrases and keywords – basically, Google. Who would’ve thought that search engines could be tied to fighting Nazis?

Turing and his team had to make some difficult choices, some inhuman choices, in order to maintain the discoveries they made – sacrificing their souls was a decision they felt necessary to end the war sooner than later. Amazing feats were accomplished, and dangerous precedents were set. Today, we use these precedents –fueled by paranoia of another large-scale attack – to justify pre-emptive attacks on foreign and domestic targets. By domestic, of course, I mean us.

CITIZENFOUR is a chronicle of the fast-breaking story of the Edward Snowden leaks. Filmmaker Laura Poitras was contacted by Snowden to help unleash a flurry of documents that would expose just how far the American government has gone and will go to collect data. No, not data on specific threats; I mean all data. Everything. Phone calls, emails, browser history, etc. And it’s ever expanding, too.

While specifics on these programs and how they work are given, the film does not seem too interested in all of that. Instead, it’s about the circumstances of breaking the story itself. The hotel meetings, the tension of fire alarms and media phone calls, the concern over webcams and other devices being hacked into and turned on, the infiltration of investigative foreign hearings by CIA double agents – the anxiety of living in a surveillance state where nobody is watching the watchmen.

It’s all very concerning, the atmosphere. Moreso because this is a documentary. It all really happened. It was all really felt. There was genuine worry of being spied on and followed. The capturing of Snowden’s hotel room in Hong Kong was especially interesting. The intimate moments where he is getting ready to leave for another location or even when he answers the phone from service employees have an uneasy caution to them. He jokes here and there, but in the back of his and our minds, the door could be kicked in at any moment.

CITIZENFOUR is less a film about the what and, actually, more about the where. Where are we right now? Well, if we were to look at where we were – using The Imitation Game as an example – compared to where we are, it all makes sense. The communication tech developed to end a fight has become controlled by our fear of starting a new fight. Fear is rampant, and it makes people do silly things. Like feeding massive networks of machines information on everything and everyone. Or arresting the whistleblower and not the suspect. They’re afraid that you’ll know that they know that others know that we know. It’s a revolving door of madness that won’t be stopping anytime soon.

Where is Captain America when we need him to stop S.H.I.E.L.D.? Oh, right – he’s on the watchlist. 

CITIZENFOUR plays at The Manship Theatre in Baton Rouge starting January 10th.

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