I don’t know whether Ben Affleck meant to wade into current US foreign policymaking with his timely release of the movie Argo, devoted to the takeover of the US embassy in Iran during the 1979 revolution. But I suspect his film will likely impact the conversation around how the US should handle Iran.
I’m not predicting a large impact, rather a tonal one at the margins – but the important margins of how average Americans engage with this topic, and how they perceive the Islamic Republic. Public opinion will be an important backdrop for any decision the next administration makes in terms of how to deal with Tehran’s nuclear program, and this film could help shape that opinion.
I would guess that most Americans know the phrase “Iranian hostage crisis,” but few that didn’t live through it – essentially anyone under the age of 40 – know any but the vaguest details of what happened, and maybe not even those. Even those who do remember the grainy TV images have become far removed from the visceral emotion the incident provoked, captivating the entire nation for well over a year.
Argo, though focused primarily on a side plot to the embassy takeover that includes as much Hollywood humor as historical narrative, conveys that emotion in a deeply moving way that recreates the fear, helplessness and hatred engendered by that event.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say it re-opens the wounds of the embassy seizure, particularly since the audience should be well aware that the hostages were eventually released, but it certainly reminds many who have forgotten – or never knew to begin with – why there is such enmity between America and Iran, that there is not only a strategic dispute in the present tense but a historical dispute that for a time felt very personal.
It is that context which helps inform current US decisions towards Iran, and it will be one that is now better understood by the many millions of viewers who have had their memories refreshed thanks to Affleck.