Topics in History

A Southport student review of the 2012 film 'Argo'

Topics is a course at Southport High School, taught by Kevin Sanders, that analyzes major events from United States and world history through Hollywood films that attempt to portray those events. Students investigate historical documents and other sources to determine if a film is historically accurate.

The goal is for students to develop deeper understandings of the historical discipline while generating questions about the way the world is around them, along with watching classical films that have graced American and international screens. This week, student Samantha Cox reviews the 2012 film, Argo:

By Samantha Cox

Imagine you and five of your coworkers have just escaped a building being stormed and are now hiding out in a country where there is little chance of escape. It’s a race against the clock before you are found, taken hostage and possibly killed. How would you try to escape? This was a real-life situation of six Americans expertly portrayed in the 2012 film Argo, directed by and starring Ben Affleck. Taking place during the Iranian hostage crisis, Argo follows Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), a CIA extraction agent, as he plans and tries to rescue Robert Anders (Tate Donovan), Cora Amburn-Lijek (Clea DuVall), Mark Lijek (Christopher Denham), Joseph Stafford (Scoot McNairy), Kathleen Stafford (Kerry Bishe) and Lee Schatz (Rory Cochrane), all hiding in the Canadian Embassy. What did the CIA come with? To make a fake fantasy movie by the name of Argo with a Middle Eastern setting, with the six Americans in hiding being a part of the production department and assuming Canadian identities to safely fly home.

Argo has an immaculate sense for suspense, expertly cutting between the fast-paced revolutionary mobs in Iran to the slow process of making the cover story for Argo. From getting the approval of the CIA, to making ads in the newspapers, to even a reading of the script with actors all dressed up, the scenes that take place in America create a sense of dread and anticipation for the viewers, awaiting to see if this plot will actually work. On the other hand, the scenes in Iran are cut fast-paced, always showing the mob of Iranians, which shows just how many people our characters have to outsmart.

Take for example the scene where on the American side, the movie script is being read through by famous actors, all dressed up in outlandish costumes, while on the Iranian side, the American hostages are taken and being prepared to be executed. The movie script reading takes a long time, while the American hostages are quickly grabbed, blindfolded and lined up. It then cuts back to the script reading once again and the viewers are left wondering when or if it will cut back to the American hostages. The viewers start to wonder if Mendez’s plan is taking too long, and the same fate will fall to our escapees. The hostages are ultimately not killed which lets the viewers breathe while cutting back to after the script reading and it turns out to be a success. Because of the crosscutting between the scenes in America and the scene in Iran, the viewers understand the race against the clock and are filled with suspense. There are just long enough pauses to make you creep to the edge of your seat without drawing the scene out for too long. Altogether, Argo is a perfect example of how a film can create suspense and on-edge experience.