I have never read any of John le Carré’s books. But I have seen two movies based upon his books. The first was many years ago: The Little Drummer Girl. It is an interesting film, but not all that good. It is probably worth revisiting, especially with the continuing problems between the Israelis and Palestinians. The movie goes along with my many years of experience in academia: taken out of the Middle East, Israelis and Palestinians love each other. Why? Because they are the same fucking people!
Last night, I watched The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Unlike The Little Drummer Girl, it is a great film. Above all, the film is beautiful to look at. I really love the lighting and camera work of Oswald Morris (Look Back in Anger). But also, the story is stronger, and acting better, and the film just reeks of Cold War tension.
On a basic level, these two films are the same: individuals matter and states are just evil institutions. In The Little Drummer Girl, this is more implicit. Of course, it was written 20 years latter. Apparently, when le Carré first published The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, it created quite a stir. People were used to the James Bond crap and thought of spies as cowboys (Western) and Indians (Eastern). Le Carré was more sophisticated, saying in effect, “They’re all assholes.”
It was funny watching The Spy Who Came in from the Cold last night. This story, created almost 50 years ago, evidences so much more nuanced an understand of foreign affairs than we get today even in serious reporting. I think we’ve taken a big step backwards. If The Spy Who Came in from the Cold were released today, it would be savagely attacked on Fox News. And this is after Dick Chaney and company said publicly what Control says in the film: they need to be as evil as the other side.
Of course, if this is all that le Carré had on offer, both these movies would be nothing more than exercises in extreme cynicism. But they aren’t. This is because they provide the one defense we have against an evil world: our individual relationships. This is what makes the ending of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold so noble, if sad.