ARGO: Actuality in Cinema

by Phillip S. Freeman, MD


In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

The audience typically applauds at the end of showings of the film Argo. This is not surprising because the film is taut, well made, multi-layered, thoughtful, and funny. It is a tribute to Ben Affleck’s growing skills and range as a director.

Argo (2012) is based on historical events during the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979. In the aftermath of the Iranian revolution, 52 staff members of the US Embassy were taken hostage and remained in captivity for 444 days. Six US diplomats escaped the embassy and hid in the residence of Ken Taylor, the Canadian Ambassador. Tony Mendez, a CIA operative with experience sneaking endangered individuals out of revolutionary Iran, masterminded an “exfiltration caper” whereby he pretended to be a film director scouting locations in Iran for a science fiction film entitled Argot. Individuals in Hollywood helped to make the fictional film project seem credible. Mendez successfully snuck the six embassy staff members out of the country by disguising them as his film production team.

As the lights went up in the theater after the film showing someone said to me, “I can’t believe that actually happened!” I had to agree. But I wondered. What actually happened? Affleck took grief for some of the artistic liberties in this reconstruction of historical events – he said it was in the “spirit of the truth” – but I imagine we have no trouble granting him that. Still, my attention was drawn to the question of “actuality”.

The initial stab at the Actual is the non-fiction frame of the film – a brief history of the Iranian revolution that Affleck appended to the screenplay at the outset of the film, and, at the close, words by President Carter, the final text, and the pairs of photographs juxtaposing the real and the simulated. Such frame stories – often a narrator offering a flashback, here a non-fiction frame – typically present a context of reality within which the main story occupies a less certain status. In The Wizard of Oz or The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, for example, the main story is ultimately revealed to be a dream or a delusion.

In Argo, however, Affleck wants to emphasize the accuracy of the simulations and impersonations that constitute the re-creation of the exfiltration caper. He wants to make a distinction between the spirit of truth in the real film that is Argo, and the fakery of the pretend film Argo that is the tool of the deception <…>

International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, 10/2: 178-180, June 2013.

Link to Online Publication


Other recent psychoanalytic publications about films:

  • Anderson, D. (2010). Film Essay: Love and hate in dementia: The depressive position in the film Iris. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis., 91:1289-1297. PEP Web Link to Abstract.
  • Colarusso, C.A. (2011). Death, Rejuvenation and Immortality in Film: On Golden Pond (1981), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) and Cocoon (1985). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 71:146-161. PEP Web Link to Abstract.
  • Essman, E. (2015). Her Directed by Spike Jonze Annapurna Pictures, 2013; 126 min.Under the Skin Directed by Jonathan Glazer Film 4, 2013; 108 min. Lucy Directed by Luc Besson EuropaCorp, TFI Films Inc., 2014; 89 min. Fort Da, 21:119-125. PEP Web Link to Abstract.
  • Farber, D. (2011). Poetry directed, written, and produced by Lee Chang-dong Pine House Film, 2010, 139 min. Distributor, Next Entertainment World USA release, March 2011. Fort Da, 17:107-114. PEP Web Link to Abstract.
  • Garfinkle, E. (2014). Father and Son in the Film “Footnote”. Canadian Journal of Psychoanalysis, 22:151-163. PEP Web Link to Abstract.
  • Gilman, S.L. (2010). Hidden Gifts: The Mystery of Angus MacPhee. A film by Nick Higgins Icarus Films, 2005, 25 minutes. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 58:405-407. PEP Web Link to Abstract.
  • Hoffer, A. (2013). The Freud-Jung Rupture as Portrayed in the Film A Dangerous Method: A Dangerous Method. A film directed by David Cronenberg; screenplay by Christopher Hampton. Lago Film/Prospero Pictures, 2011, 1 hour, 49 minutes. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 61:819-832. PEP Web Link to Abstract.
  • Ringstrom, P.A. (2011). Film Review of “Little Miss Sunshine”. International Journal of Psychoanalytic Self Psychology, 6:113-123. PEP Web Link to Abstract.
  • Roth, B. (2015). Banal No More: An Essay on the Film Hannah Arendt, with Special Reference to Eichmann and the Nazi Killing Groups. Psychoanalytic Review, 102:265-289. PEP Web Link to Abstract.
  • Stevens, G.J. (2011). Inside All of Us Where the Wild Things are in Literature, Film, and Psychoanalysis. DIVISION/Rev., 3:40-42. PEP Web Link to Abstract.
  • Valdrè, R. (2014). “We Need to Talk about Kevin”: An Unusual, Unconventional Film Some Reflections on ‘Bad Boys’, between Transgenerational Projections and Socio-Cultural Influences. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 95:149-159. PEP Web Link to Abstract.
  • White, C. (2011). There Was Blood: Lacan and Murder in the Film There Will be Blood. Free Associations, 12:83-95. PEP Web Link to Abstract.

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