Skip navigation

The content of CitizenFour obviously touches a lot of nerves for contemporary citizens; the NSA worked to silently poison internet anonymity bringing the tenuous, complex relationship between media and democracy to the fore.  But as many other students noted in their blogs, the film employed a very peculiar, almost cautious cinematic presentation exuding a subtle aura of action and penalty, risk and reward.

CitizenFour’s focus oscillated between Snowden and the sociopolitical drama that ensued shortly after his leaks, presenting the audience with two simultaneous, but interwoven diegeses: the individual’s decision to revive the public sphere of critical opinion and the public’s violent confrontation with democratic facades.  While the film started with a Matrixesque espionage address to the audience, it was almost jarring that so many of the shots focused on Snowden being a “normal” guy; the camera cohabited his hotel room to record (and to survive through editing and post-production cuts) the mundane routines of Snowden’s everyday.  There was a particular focus on the “sillier” human moments of this “traitor”, the scene of him covering himself with the blanket to avoid the all-seeing eye of surveillance or when he insists on hiding personal passwords.  His dialogue with Greenway unfolded like a quiet toxicity revealed through subdued, sincere, mutual bewilderment at the current state of national privacy.  But this lull in action was constantly intercut by the media’s mixed but violent responses to his “selfish” and “treacherous” actions.   This kind of cinematic poiesis effectively presents the audience with the stakes of Snowden’s decision, but also effectively meta generates a wake up call for the audience.  It animates dystopic visions of pervasive, unavoidable surveillance with quiet brilliance and shows the audience that a mass public movement, or outrage, can be mobilized by one individual.  Whether that individual actor chose the right media outlets that do not undermine the political potentiality of the public sphere with patriotic discoloration, is another question all together.