Bridge of the Spies was a movie released in 2015 written by Matt Charman, Joel Coen, and Ethan Coen with actors Alan Alda, Tom Hanks, and Mark Rylance. The film focuses on key historical issues of espionage during the Cold War (Longwood, n.d.). In the movie, Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance) has been found to be a spy for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR). The lawyer of the spy is first seen to be defending the Russian operative but negotiates to keep him for a swap for an American pilot held by the Soviet Union. The Cold War was America’s longest involvement in a war that lasted from 1961 to 1973 (Michelmore, 2013). The movie is an adequate representation of international politics and unmasks the truth about international politics. The Cold War significantly represented war on the basis of conflicting ideologies between the United States of America and the Soviet Union. While the U.S.A held western capitalist ideologies, the USSR on the other hand, was Marxist (Zunino, 2019). Hence, the Cold War affected international politics and relations in multiple ways. In fact, more than a war, the Cold War essentially represented a battle for hegemony between the U.S and the Soviet Union. The aim of this assessment is to critically discuss the various parts of the movie in relation to the theoretical frameworks.
Bridge of the Spies is based on a true story during the Cold War. A spy from the Soviet Union was slapped with an unfair trial and imprisoned. Donovan (the lawyer) relentlessly sets out to help Abeluntil he is finally used when two Americans were imprisoned in communist territory. The court trial scenes of the movie aptly represent the multiple struggles and hurdles Donavan was made to face in a biased court. The film uses this case of espionage to deliver a message and provide the broader picture to the public about the American judicial system and foreign policy which had prevailed during the Cold War. Donavan was an unqualified lawyer for the case because he specialized as an insurance lawyer. His employers are seen in the movie explaining to him how he has to try and make the trail seem fair, unfortunately, Donavan receives much negative criticism from his countrymen. Donavan was meant to make it seem as if even a spy can receive a fair trial, however, this is not true from the inside as all that is seen is a mere facade and is staged to look fair and just when it actually is not.
As Donovan proceeds with the case, he comes to realize that the government has no legal authority to consider Abel's possessions as evidence because they did not have an arrest warrant. Additionally, the judge assigned to the case seems extremely biased after he states that "this man [Abel] has to have due process, but let's not kid ourselves". Through this, the audience can see the entire bias and unfair trial on the part of the American government play out in front of their eyes. Abel's apartment is ransacked, invaded, and practically destroyed without a warrant, which is practically illegal. This movie covers various issues of the United States' justice system as well as the justice system of the Soviet Union along with each country's foreign policy. Able’s rights should be protected by the Constitution, however, they are not. Bringing into his home without proper authority is a violation of basic human rights. Also, Abel is used as a pawn by the United States government as part of a bargain deal. He is held captive and is eventually traded off for an American Spy and a falsely accused American student. These choices made by the U.S president bring the American foreign policy to be scrutinized and questioned.
It is the responsibility of the government to provide Abel with an attorney and the audience can see that Donovan is not the right lawyer for his. Additionally, Donavon lacks confidence in the case but he also recognizes that he is Able’s only hope for legal representation. Moreover, the committee that decided on Donavon to be the one for Abel's case paid special emphasis on the fact that he must make it all 'seem' fair because, at the core of it all, they knew that it was an unfair case and trail. Donovan attempted to argue as fiercely as he could and he aimed to reinstate that each and every person is protected by the Constitution and deserve a fair trial. However, Abel was still found guilty and sentenced to thirty years in prison (instead of having to face the electric chair). This was all a planned conspiracy on the part of the American government as they knew exactly what they wanted to do with him that is why Able was sentenced instead.
This was arranged by Donovan with the hope that at least one day Abel could be used for an exchange if the Soviets ever managed to have an American in their possession. Essentially, the U.S was planning ahead for scenarios that could possibly occur at the expense of an innocent man's life. This hope was finally realized on the day of the trail when an American Air Force pilot (Francis Gary Powers) was capture while he attempted to take pictures of the land of the Soviet Union. It was then when the Soviet Union used the opportunity to trade Powers for Abel. It was Donovan who was sent for negotiations for Abel when it was discovered that an American student (Fredrick L. Pryor) was also held prisoner by East Germany. Donovan finally struck a deal for the exchange and return for both Powers as well as Pryor.
The movie has connections between international relations which are seen throughout the movie. The manner in which the case of Powers was handled and the treatment both Powers and Pryor received in a foreign land brings multiple questions concerning human rights. The United Nations defines human rights as rights to all regardless of sex, race, ethnicity, language, religion, etc. Also, it includes the right to life, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion, freedom of expression, etc. (United Nations, n.d.). All these rights ever vehemently violated by the U.S government during the Cold War. The lack of respect given to Pryor’s safety from the CIA aptly demonstrates America’s no-care attitude towards fundamental human rights during the war. The audience is shown various examples of how basic human rights were taken away from Rudolf Abel even though. Also, the movie aptly depicts what is deemed ‘normal’ in the communist state of the Soviet Union. However, America also seems to have failed to be just, in the film, due to the mistreatment of foreigners which is an unconstitutional act.
The rational choice theory plays an underlying role in international relations where states are seeking to be unitary rational actors. All involved parties such as the Soviet Union, East German Democratic Republic, and the CIA are only looking out for the best interest of their own country (Lopez & Johnsom, 2017). The movie unmasks the manipulative and selfish ways the United States government operated during the Cold War all in the name of hegemony (Beeson, 2004). This movie also provides an apt depiction of and emotions and beliefs of the American public with regards to their thoughts and their hatred towards the Soviet Union and their attitude towards the government of the U.S. Also, the attitude of the public regarding the man who was merely sent to protect his nation presents the perfect example of the rational choice theory.
International relations and the fundamentals of human rights were heavily violated from the very beginning by illegally entering and searching Powers apartment.
The movie The Bridge of the Spies is based on a true story dating back to the Cold war. Holding an accused Russian spy prisoner in the U.S and them subjecting him to an unfair trial may be a violation of international relations and human right, however, the U.S government had the best interest of the country at heart. Essentially, be it the U.S, Germany, or the Soviet Union, all countries were looking out for the best interest of their own people and if that means to violate the human rights of someone from another country, then so be it. The rules and policies of international relations are completely violated in the Cold War both by the United States as well as the Soviet Union, all in the name and pursuit of hegemony. The ideal of the communist USSR government was very different from those to the government and the people of the U.S. The U.S was perceived as a land foo justice was everyone is given a fair chance, however, through Abel’s case, the audience is proven wrong. Able did not receive a fair trial and his lawyer, Donovan was told to make the trail only ‘look’ or ‘seem’ fair.
Beeson, M. (2004).U.S hegemony and Southeast Asia.Critical Asian Studies, 36(3), 445-462.
Longwood. (n.d.). Bridge of spies. Retrieved from https://blogs.longwood.edu/politicsandfilm/foreign-affairs/bridge-of-spies/ Lopez, A. & Johnson, D. (2017).The determinants of war in international relations.Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 1-15. Doi: 10.1016/j.jebo.2017.09.010
Michelmore, J. (2013). The journal of cold war studies 2007-2012. Retrieved from https://www.rug.nl/let/studeren-bij-ons/master/rema/mhir/journal-cold-war-studies-michelmore.pdf United Nations.(n.d.).Human rights. Retrieved from https://www.un.org/en/sections/issues-depth/human-rights/
Zunino, M. (2019). The Cold War Impasse: Descent. In Justice Framed: A Genealogy of Transitional Justice (pp. 173-228). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/9781108693127.006
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