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Thursday, January 17 , 2019, 10:29 am | Overcast 59º


Cinema in Focus: ‘Citizenfour’

3 Stars — Troubling

In 1949 when George Orwell published his book Nineteen Eighty Four, it was a sobering prediction of life in a “big brother” controlled state. The novel is described as being set in Airstrip One (formerly known as Great Britain), a province of the superstate Oceania in a world of perpetual war and omnipresent government surveillance. When the year 1984 actually came along, most of us were a little relieved that these Orwellian predictions were only slightly true. Little did we know how the Internet and today’s vast communications capabilities would create a very different world just a few short years later.

Citizenfour is a chilling documentary about what Edward Snowden exposed to a relatively naïve world in June 2013. Considering this story is only now unfolding, most people are not fully aware of how much of their privacy has vanished. Regardless of what you may think about what Snowden did, or how much you may think that we need every resource available to fight global terrorism, what this documentary reveals is a frightening loss of individual freedom and a remarkably chilling impact of anyone who questions our government.

In some respects, this is like a reminder of the last days of the Roman Empire when Roman citizens were somewhat protected under the law, but anyone who wasn’t a Roman was fair game for destruction.

It also provides a sobering understanding of what President Dwight D. Eisenhower said in 1959 when he warned that the “greatest threat to America may be the growth of the military-industrial complex.” We may now be living in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four!

In the year 2012, there was a mild uproar in our hometown of Santa Barbara about the installation of “smart meters” being installed by the utilities to measure electricity and gas usage. Some people felt that this was a “big brother” intrusion in their lives. My response at the time was to ask the questions: “Do you own a cell phone, or ever go on the Internet, or use a credit card, or shop at a supermarket?” If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you are already being tracked everyday of your life.

Citizenfour gives the viewer a look at what may make all of that seem like child’s play.

Everyone may come away from seeing this story with a different level of anxiety, or lack thereof. Snowden is now living under the protection of the Russian government, and the United States is trying to get him back into the country to charge him with treason. On the other hand, some people are now comparing him to Luke Skywalker in Star Wars fighting the “Evil Empire.” So much of the protests around the world today are fed by the concern that governments, including our own, have assumed too much power.

Whether we live in an “Orwellian future” or not, the choices we make about living out our values are on the line as never before. Sacrificing one’s freedom to any government for the sake of security has always proven to be a disastrous choice. There has never been a greater need for people of faith who have the skills of leadership to come forth and use those skills for the greater good.


» It is most often fear that causes a person or a government to try to control others. Do you think our government is being consumed by fear and that is driving it, or do you think it is endemic to government to try to control the threats? Why do you answer as you do?

» Does it bother you that our electronic world has made us personally more vulnerable? Would you be willing to give up electronic connections to be safer?

» What responsibility do you think is yours having seen this documentary? What are you going to do?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

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