COVID-19 not only instilled panic and paranoia in Americans because of spread and infection, but the fear of isolation and dwelling in one’s thoughts. I was one of the many who fell victim to this. As a film enthusiast, I looked to cinema to avoid these anxieties rather than face them. Amongst those who powered me through quarantine is Oliver Stone.
Oliver Stone is an American film director best known for his work Natural Born Killers (1994) and Platoon (1986). After being introduced to his work by a colleague, two films changed my perspective on film, media, and America.
The first film of Stone’s that I watched was 2016’s Snowden, walking in completely unaware. Snowden’s intelligence is intensely thought-provoking. Snowden follows the story of Edward Snowden, who was contracted by the National Security Agency and leaks classified information after experiencing disillusionment with the Intelligence Community. He is then exiled, becoming an enemy to some, a hero to others, and a fugitive from his own country.
The cinematic depictions of the invasion of privacy leaves you unsettled. Americans, unsuspecting, are being monitored and accessed at any time. It is evident that Stone intended on calling the government out for unconstitutional surveillance, misuse of information and corrupted power. This doesn’t limit in any capacity a love for your country, but instead expands the viewer’s patriotism if one believes that dissent is patriotic.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a beloved actor, plays the role of Snowden, though many note him as underrated but exemplary for the part. The film alone doesn’t rely on its dialogue but instead a fragmented structure defined by visual effects to allude to time and unveiling, which works well for such a complex story.
Stone took advantage of the realism element that drives the plot home in the end. The end introduces us to a seamless clip of the real Snowden speaking to us from exile, still exuding patriotism in an ethically subversive manner.
I was mesmerized by my years of oblivion after this film. Not because I was unaware of one event, but noticing this is me officially taking off the rose-tinted glasses and seeing the world through a flawed lens. That’s how I got through 1991’s JFK.
This film has a stellar cast that has to be mentioned off the bat, varying from Kevin Costner, Joe Pesci and Kevin Bacon. JFK is a drama that investigates the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Jim Garrison, lead New Orleans District Attorney on the case begins to feel doubt about how the murder transpired and closes the case after heavy government backlash. Garrison discovered compelling evidence that causes him to reopen the investigation and reveal a conspiracy that was behind Kennedy’s death.
Stone was criticized before and after the release of the film, but that doesn’t change the narrative on what could have happened that tragic historical day. Garrison himself was one of the only people at that time that challenged the accepted verdict, and called into question other possible leads, though in the end we are still left to question.
This film provides evidence within to demonstrate the falsehood of the theory that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman. The primary evidence that belies this theory is Abraham Zapruder’s home movie that was taken that fatal day. This film is meant to leave you questioning, even after Garrison details the entire plot in the courtroom, putting all the pieces together in his perspective on how everything took place and why.
That was the moment everything clicked. It had nothing to do with Kennedy at that point, but seeking the truth and exposing a front orchestrated by powerful people who believed they could do whatever they wanted. Just like Kennedy, Garrison fears his bold actions may lead to something more dangerous.
I’ve noticed that about life recently, it’s dangerous, especially living in a pandemic, but we still search for the veracity of stories and news coverage around us because we, as citizens, need to know the truth. Both Snowden and JFK urge the viewer to be more than just a spectator. Be a citizen. Demand the truth from your government. You shouldn’t believe everything you hear, but it’s your responsibility to find the facts and generate your own conclusions. Some around me say Stone failed with these films, but I disagree. He opened my eyes.