In 1953, in a coup d’etat backed by the United States, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was restored to his position as Shah of Iran. He ruled firmly, amassed a gigantic fortune, and professed later, in exile, to having had no knowledge of atrocities committed by SAVAK (his personal Gestapo), against the Iranian people during his dictatorship.
Apparently his rule mirrored that of dictators everywhere, and apparently we had our hands in it, at least partially because of a subterranean black liquid, try to guess which one.
Fast forward to 1979. The Shah is in the United States for medical treatment. Islamic Fundamentalists, led by the Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini, overthrow the government and seize power.
(I’m skipping the part where Mr. Pahlavi wanders from country to country attempting to gain some semblance of sanctuary, which no one will give him, which makes me think he wasn’t the really nice guy some of us were taught he was. Consider this: the Saudis gave sanctuary to Idi Amin, and the Argentines . . . well, let’s not talk about the Argentines, and we put the Marcoses up in Hawaii, but this guy couldn’t get an invite to anywhere.)
In November of 1979, “students” (they look older) storm the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. They are angry that we are shaking hands with and providing World Class Health Care to a guy whose secret police terrorized their country for more than a quarter of a century–the movie mentions that SAVAK killed infants in their mothers’ arms, among other horrors. They want Pahlavi extradited, tried, and hanged. They probably had just cause, and today things might have worked out differently, and it’s really a terrible pity they couldn’t have just hired Mossad to track the guy down and drop him out the window of an El Al flight onto some moonlit Iranian desert, stolen Iranian gold and all.
Come to think of it, we should have hired Mossad: “Yep, you can have, oh I don’t know, how about eight helicopters, if you can make it look like you pinched the Shah out from under our noses and dropped him into a jail cell somewhere stinky.” Oh wait, we paid those helicopters out, didn’t we?
(No, no, you Republican, you. You don’t get to blame Mr. Carter for that. Not unless you’re willing to give the Current Officeholder credit for last year’s takedown. Fair’s fair.)
Back to the story: The Embassy is “stormed,” which is news-speak for “violently seized,” and our Embassy staff captured, hence the 444-day long Hostage Crisis that perhaps defined the Carter Administration. (For the end of which crisis Mr. Carter has not always been given the credit he deserves. Reagan kids like myself were always told the “students” simply gave up the hostages because they were afraid of the Gipper, ridiculous nonsense that slanders President Carter as well as the government negotiators, intelligence operatives, military advisors and so forth who worked this problem non-stop from beginning to end.)
In a go/no-go now-or-never split-second decision, six Embassy employees run for their lives out a back door, ending up at the Canadian Embassy, God bless the Canadian Ambassador. In fact, while we’re at it, God bless all State Department officials who daily and hourly put themselves out there as Witnesses of America’s Goodness, often in harm’s way, often when it doesn’t necessarily translate to the Rest of the World that what we are doing is good. Think: Chris Stevens.
They hide there for months, themselves in mortal peril. The Canadian Ambassador and his wife, in equivalent peril, go about their business. Sometimes, going about your business is the bravest thing in the world.
ARGO is the story of how one man, Tony Mendez, rock-star CIA operative, brainstormed an impossible plan, marketed it through an impossible maze of approval levels, executed it with impossible calm and savoir faire, and saved six lives.
ARGO is also the story of how ordinary people run our own Impossible Idea, a Republic—the idea that regular folks can take their place in a Nation, can expend themselves for their Nation with calm, with grace, with selflessness, can make decisions against their own best interest for the interest of their People. (We know this is a good idea when we do it. Perhaps we might consider that when others do this, it may also be a good idea.)
ARGO is also the story of why no Fundamentalism should ever be allowed to be in charge of a political unit—town, county, state, nation, whatever. Because national dress-codes make people crazy, and dress-codes are only the beginning. Pretty soon you’re telling people where they can and cannot go, what they can and cannot do, what they must and must not think—and then you have become a tyrant, not at all what your aspired to become, but what was most probably inevitable.
And one more thing—ARGO also reminds us that we don’t really know anything about anyone. That Hollywood director you despise might be a turbo-charged Patriot; the guy who lives alone all morose, because his wife took the kid and moved two states away, might be an undercover Homeland Security agent; your friendly movie reviewer might be a kick-ass CIA operative with hidden karate skills you can only dream of; and Ben Affleck might have finally emerged as the amazing actor we always hoped he would become. Loved him in this. He never goes dorky on us, doesn’t do any Jack-Ryan nonsense, doesn’t say “allegedly” in white socks. Amazing job as director and star—he’s given us a bit of history we didn’t know we had, and he’s done it with a lot of class.
See this movie. Take your teenagers if you want. There is the usual amount of language one would expect in such a tense situation. (FYI, your kids already know these words.)