The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

The Spy Who Came in from the ColdI 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.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

9 thoughts on “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

  1. He’s not a bad writer! Not anything great, but in the “good genre writer” category. And a nice guy. I interviewed him for a college newspaper when I was 18 or so and he was such a kind gentleman. It was for “The Night Manager,” and I guess there’s a new miniseries with Hugh Laurie based on that, so I look forward to when it’s released on video. (I don’t remember the book at all, so the plot twists will be new.)

    Lots of sad adaptations of his books — he never really strays far from the theme of how espionage is, basically, winning over someone’s trust then betraying them. Probably the one I liked best was “The Tailor Of Panama,” as the cast is outstanding (Pierce Brosnan has a wicked good time playing the Bond-type more realistically.) Avoid “The Constant Gardener” at all costs, though; “Panama” is sad, “Gardener” is just grim. No movie should kill off the Rachel Weisz character (alas, many do.)

    • You are forcing me to re-read things I wrote four years ago. And when you start as you did, I thought I had said le Carré was a bad writer. That’s cool you got to interview him. But I don’t have time to read. I just want to go to sleep tonight and wake up next year.

      • Sorry, man! I’m digging the ticker on top here, and shall I remind you, I is an unemployed mooch on society who is bored off my ass. Although today I did get to take a pee test for a shitty job, so hopefully soon I’ll have something to do.

        The people at the pee test place were perfectly nice, but geez, what a depressing little operation they work in. One, it’s for jobs that don’t offer health insurance — any job with an insurance plan will send you to one of their plan’s approved clinics.

        Two, the posters! The place was full of super-cheesy, depressing posters. “Is it my baby?” “Is my cancer genetic?” Lord, given the sad little strip-mall location and gloomy focus of those posters, I was pretty impressed by how decent the employees were. Coulda been much meaner!

        • If they’re making you pee, they must want you. So that’s good. Although the history of drug testing really does sum up everything that’s wrong with corporate America. Remember that the HUAC didn’t actually get anyone fired; it was American business. It’s the same thing with drug testing. There was a six month period — Six months — during which CEOs polled went from 6% to over 60% saying that drugs in the workplace was a big problem. In our society, it’s the people at the top who are the biggest sheep.

          Don’t change your email address in your user profile here or your comments will get flagged. Or do change it and just post while logged in.

          • Ahh, gotcha. Sorry! I noticed I hadn’t spelled it correctly and fixed it. Now I know.

            This same job has a policy of testing you after an accident (employees drive company trucks.) Which is asinine. A breathalyzer I could see the point to, if you’re drunk driving you should be held financially responsible for the accident. But a drug test? You could have gone to a Ween concert two days ago and test positive even though you’re completely clear-headed now. It’s an insurance thing, I’m sure.

            Once again, conservative politicians prove they love a police state. Just as long as somebody (like that sad little testing place) can make a profit from it …

            • Reminds me of a Police parody my friends and I use to sing:
              “I’ll send a urine test to the lab
              I’ll send a urine test to the lab
              I hope they don’t find nothing*
              I hope they don’t find nothing
              Pissing in a bottle…”

              * Yes, I’m aware that the double negative is both grammatically incorrect AND nonsensical in this context. But it was the only way I could make that line scan.

              • Hey, song lyrics are that way.

                I’m a lone rhinoceros
                There ain’t one hell of a lots of us
                Left in this world…

            • And the Supreme Court has found that drug detection is not the same as intoxication. The problem is that people who have to worry about this don’t have the money to fight it in court.

              I don’t actually know what spelling you are talking about, but I’ve been drinking.

  2. @ Marc — that’s great! And who cares about the double negative! I mean, the rest is incorrect as well (the peer doesn’t send the “test” to the lab themselves, a “sample” is collected by a third party, it’s a “cup” not a “bottle”) but all’s fair in song parodies (and my sloppy Internet thread posts!)

    When doing a song parody, the most important thing is getting the meter right. If you can sing it in your head, it’s good — and that one’s good!

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