CITIZENFOUR, the new film by Intercept co-founding editor Laura Poitras, premiered this evening at the New York Film Festival, and will be in theaters around the country beginning October 24. Using all first-hand, real-time footage, it chronicles the extraordinary odyssey of Edward Snowden in Hong Kong while he worked with journalists, as well the aftermath of the disclosures for the NSA whistleblower himself and for countries and governments around the world.
The film provides the first-ever character study of Snowden and his courageous whistleblowing, contains significant new revelations about all of these events, and will undoubtedly be discussed for years to come. But one seemingly banal — yet actually quite significant — revelation from the film is worth separately highlighting: In July of this year, Snowden’s long-time girlfriend, Lindsay Mills, moved to Moscow to live with him.
Vital to the U.S. government and its assorted loyalists in the commentariat is to depict whistleblowers as destined to live miserable lives. That’s the key to their attempt to deter unwanted disclosure: the message that doing so will result in the full-scale destruction of one’s life. That’s what explains the grotesquely severe mistreatment and 35-year prison term for Chelsea Manning, as well as the repeated, gleeful predictions that Snowden will “end up like Kim Philby,” the British defector to the Soviet Union who, it is claimed, died a premature death from alcoholism, solitude and all-around deprivation.
The reality is that none of that has ever applied to Edward Snowden. Particularly when compared to what he expected his life to be upon deciding to embark on the whistleblowing path — decades of imprisonment in the harsh American penal state, if not worse — his post-Hong Kong life has been fulfilling and rewarding. He speaks, and writes, and is interviewed, and has become an important voice in the global debate he triggered.
But the fact that he is now living in domestic bliss as well, with his long-term girlfriend whom he loves, should forever put to rest the absurd campaign to depict his life as grim and dank. Snowden not only changed how the world thinks about a number of profoundly important political issues by defying its most powerful government, but then was able to build a happy, healthy and fulfilling life for himself. And if he can do that, so can other whistleblowers, which is precisely why so much effort has been devoted to depicting him in all sorts of false lights. What Poitras’ film does is let people judge Snowden for themselves, and that’s one of the aspects that makes it so important and powerful.
Photo: The Guardian/Getty Images