The 2012 American film Argo, directed by the renowned American celebrity Ben Affleck, is, at first glance, a successful Hollywood production, the recipient of multiple awards from the film industry as well as succeeding at the international box office. However, the film, being a political thriller based on real historical events, cannot be reduced to a mere piece of Hollywood entertainment, devoid of any greater social value. Namely, the film addresses the plight of various American officials who, after the Islamic Revolution in Iran of 1979, are trapped in the country, and are unable to leave it: the events of Argo therefore address these U.S. citizens attempt to escape the country, as the new Islamic regime had a hostile view to the Americans. The film is based on the dramaturgy of escape from a hostile political power.
In a superficial sense, the film is therefore a chronicle of some historical events that occurred, framed within a Hollywood context that turns these historical events into entertainment, in this case, the genre of political thriller. However, this would seem to be a superficial reading to the extent that the very release of such a film appears to correspond to very real geopolitical events, namely, the high political tensions between the Islamic Republic of Iran and its geopolitical opponents, such as the United States and its closest ally Israel. From this perspective, the film becomes a very particular interpretation of historical events, above all shaped by the U.S.’s geopolitical opposition to Iran. In other words, the film becomes a type of propaganda vehicle to justify harsh policy decisions by the U.S. towards the Islamic Republic of Iran, in so far as in the film the latter is portrayed as an essentially tyrannical and oppressive regime. By demonstrating this side of the story, the U.S. , through the medium of film justifies its policy decisions.
One of the key supports for this thesis is that at the time of the release of the film and during its production, the relations between the United States and its allies and Iran was especially tense. Arguably, the most crucial issue was the Iranian desire to develop a nuclear program, proclaiming its right as a sovereign nation to develop this source of power, which is found throughout the world. Countries such as the United States and Israel, however, have explicitly opposed Iranian’s nuclear program, arguing that such a program could easily develop into a nuclear weapons program. For states such as Israel, the existence of an Iranian nuclear program is viewed as an existential threat, to the extent that the Iranian regime has, since the Islamic Revolution, had extremely negative political relations with Israel, largely based on traditional Muslim-Jewish tensions. In other words, since both states are largely shaped by their adherence to religious faiths, and, furthermore, such religious faiths have entirely different views of the world, Iran and Israel have emerged as natural geopolitical opponents. In addition, Iran and Israel have had contrary aims in the region, for example, Israel has waged war against Lebanon, while Iran has openly assisted the Shia Hezbollah movement in Lebanon. Furthermore, Iran has been a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause against the Israeli dominance and occupation of the lands previous to the 1967 arrangement.
From this perspective, Argo fits entirely into the narrative of the West about Iran: it fits the geopolitical objectives of the United States and Israel to portray Iran as an unstable nation, led by fanatics. When one adds in the fact that the Jewish lobby and Jewish people have an enormous influence on the Hollywood industry, as demonstrated by the high number of Jews that work in Hollywood and have important roles in the film industry, in complete disproportion to the actual number of Jews that live in the United States, the film can be viewed as an expression of the powerful and influential Jewish and Israeli lobby within the United States. United States’ foreign policy has continually stressed the importance of a special relationship with Israel, at the expense of the United States’ other political concerns and interests, perhaps concerns and interests, which would perhaps lead the U.S. to occasionally side against Israel, however, which has never happened.
From this greater perspective, the film Argo fits into this narrative, but it also fits into a very specific American interpretation of Iranian history. The Islamic Revolution is namely viewed as a primitive and fundamentalist regime, which had overthrown the previous regime of the Shah. However, it is an established historical fact that the CIA and the United States were fundamental to maintaining the puppet regime of the Shah, installing him as ruler of Iran in the 1950s for example, aiding in the coup d’etat of the democratically elected party of Iran, because the latter was not in line with U.S. foreign policy objectives. In other words, from an Iranian perspective, it is the U.S. who is a barbaric intrusive regime, as demonstrated by the political history of Iran itself: to the extent that the Shah was a puppet installed by the U.S. , the Iranian revolution was a liberation from U.S. influence. The film Argo however portrays this revolution as the victory of fundamentalism against the progressive forces of democracy: but when considering the film in this greater geopolitical perspective, progressive forces of democracy is easily understood as a euphemism for U.S. hegemony.
In this regard, despite the slick Hollywood production of the film Argo, it remains thoroughly ideological, serving as a propaganda film from the U.S. film industry which attempts to demonize the very real geopolitical opponent of the U.S. and its allies. Many Iranians, such as the Canadian-Iranian writer Jhian Ghomeshi (2012), have critiqued the portrayal of the Iranians in the film. Other public officials from Iran have argued that the film is historically incorrect, completely neglecting the fact that some Iranian officials argued for the immediate release of the American officials after the revolution that is the center of the Argo narrative. (Parry, 2012) Considering these very personal objections as well as the greater geopolitical context underscores the propagandistic nature of Argo as a film.
- Ghomeshi, Jian. “Argo is crowd-pleasing, entertaining – and unfair to Iranians”. Globe and Mail. Retrieved November 5, 2012.
- Parry, Robert (March 7, 2013). “‘October Surprise’ and ‘Argo’”. Consortium News. Retrieved July 30, 2013.