Bridge of Spies: The Modern Day Regulation of the Film Industry

In modern society, it is common for film studios to release movies depicting true stories of the Cold War. Unlike the Cold War era, in which screenwriters feared being blacklisted due to hidden anti-American propaganda in their films, modern day screenwriters are able to criticize  America’s role within the Cold War. An example of this is in the film Bridge of Spies.

The movie follows New York lawyer James Donovan, played by Tom Hanks, who defends accused Soviet Spy, Rudolf Abel. The relationship between Donovan (white, straight, male, Christian, family-man) and his client (Russian communist) not only depicts the divide between the USSR and the USA, but also how two differing ideologies are able to work together for a common goal. Following the end of the case, Donovan is recruited by the CIA and is involved in an intense negotiation mission to release CIA U-2 spy-plane pilot Francis G. Powers. Powers, after having his plane shot down and miraculously surviving, is arrested and held by the USSR. The negotiation involves exchanging Powers for Abel, the spy Donovan previously defended. Soviet and American culture shape Donovan’s actions, affecting the public’s reactions to the event and the viewpoint of the movie as a whole.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxUk1RsajcI

The film includes some elements that do not reflect the American viewpoint of the Cold War era, for instance moments that reveal the strong morals of Abel and his unjustified conviction. However, the film fails to be revolutionary and contains large amounts of Cold War and containment rhetoric. Overall, the movie is extremely pro-American and paints the Soviets as the enemy. While the Soviet’s actions are condemned, those of the Americans are seen as logical and heroic. Although both the USA and USSR committed equivalent atrocities, the choice to portray the USSR solely in a negative light displays the strong containment culture that was not only present during the Cold War, but also in modern culture.

Furthermore, the film exaggerates many aspects of the story, especially in scenes of violence. As an effect, the US fails to admit their mistakes during the Cold War and rather proceeds to justify the containment policies and culture of the time period. In our society, communism and socialism are still considered “outsider” beliefs. Bridge of Spies cements this idea and indirectly exposes issues within modern cinema. Many years after the cold war, it appears that communism and containment culture impact modern American pop culture, especially in current cinema practice. The Cold War was a tumultuous time for the film industry. Using the film Bridge of Spies as an example, it appears that there are specific rhetorical limitations placed upon the film industry which remain present today.

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2 thoughts on “Bridge of Spies: The Modern Day Regulation of the Film Industry”

  1. I think one very interesting aspect of this movie is how it actually acts against containment culture through patriotism. Normally, when we think of containment, we think of unbridled chauvinism and blind conformity. In Donovan’s case, we still see patriotism, but it’s expressed in a non-conformist way. More specifically, a key component of the plot is Donovan’s upstanding morals: his insistence to do what is right and provide Abel with a fair trial, something that is guaranteed him by the U.S. constitution, even if it means facing persecution and derision by his peers. In this way, Donovan uses patriotism to act against containment culture.

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  2. In regards to Donovan’s upstanding morals that communicate patriotism in an non-conformist way, I believe that Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies fails to highlight the uncertainty and chaos of this dramatic story. You have two empire’s whose ideologies are fueled by the animosity that lies between them. These rivals are trying to exchange prisoners without conceding anything but without risking anyone. During the Cold War the moves made by the Soviet government were neither predictable nor calculable: cooperation could not be assumed and lives were certainly at stake. Despite this unpredictability, in typical fashion, American conduct is presented as logical, steady and confident. While this portrayal accurately feeds into containment culture’s narrative of America’s heroism and confidence in itself, I believe this film is an imprecise representation of the precariousness of the era’s politics and American-Soviet relations. Just because the U.S. felt that it stood on higher moral ground does not mean that it could see through the Soviet’s deception and trickery.

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