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Despite being a meticulously crafted and Oscar winning documentary, Citizenfour still embraces one of our favorite visual tropes: digital text whizzing across the screen, a la the green letters and numbers in The Matrix. These signify the hyperreality of cyberspace.

But as we know, Citizenfour is not a science fiction film. While it emulates the visual we know and love, the actions themselves are not simulation. The digital space where encryption and instant messaging occur exists outside of physical and tactile reality, but these actions are occurring and in fact did occur — between users and servers, between Snowden and Poitras, between Poitras and Greenwald, and so on.

I worry that the choice to include these visuals in Citizenfour connote spooky, Keanu Reeves technobabble rather than the actual gravity of the situation. Aesthetically speaking, they provide a welcome break from the footage. And they are often accompanied by that terrifying, droning sound. It certainly produces a fearful affect among viewers — but is this a result of a legitimate fear of NSA surveillance or the remnants of generalized cultural anxieties about cyberspace/feelings of cyberspace as hyperreal? Are there alternative methods of visually signifying cyberspace that depart from associations with campy science fiction?

Still, I acknowledge the utility in this visual decision. Snowden’s leaks are massive, and the technological scope that accompanies the events is highly complex — it is not the responsibility of Poitras to answer every question in Citizenfour, including how exactly encryption works. I think a section on that would have bored us.

Citizenfour is an incredibly informative and valuable documentary, but it seems to rely on some distracting practices with concerning consequences for our imaginings of government-mediated surveillance. Even though The Matrix‘s visuals might have been the only option.