August 5, 2017


Atomic Blonde Is a Serious Anti-Communist Historical Drama (Jeffrey A. Tucker, August 01, 2017, FEE)

At the start of the film, all Cold War dynamics are in place, with state actors killing anyone who tries to escape and spies and counterspies working their networks. To seek an end to the wall or to attempt to transverse it brought a death sentence. Real-life figures list 134 deaths trying to escape, but many estimate far more. The toll on civilization where it once thrived was far higher.

The poverty, despotism, corruption, and despair are palpable in the scenes from socialist/communist East Germany. The film tells the bitter truth that today's fashionable socialist left so conveniently forgets. You can talk all you want about glorious socialist ideals but, in practice, socialism (because it is literally impossible to realize as an ideal) degenerates into top-down control by a police state charged with suppressing dissent. It's not fancy; it's just life lived on the other side of a huge wall, staring down the barrel of a gun everywhere you turned.

It matters because the East/West division after World War II provided a case study in free vs unfree economies. The West experienced what later came to be called a miracle of prosperity. The East became frozen in time just like every other case of socialism, a land of misery, statism, and impoverishment. One would think that observing this would be enough to settle this debate. But in order to learn lessons, you have to know about the experience. 

The film opens with Ronald Reagan's famous speech demanding: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." A text follows assuring the viewer that this movie is not about that. But actually, as it turns out, this is precisely what the film is about.

We are introduced to the East German underground with its obsessions over punk rock, blue jeans, and illicit contraband of all sorts. You can call it corruption if you want, but it is the way revolt looked in those days: personal, not institutional. The total state had broken whatever faith people might have developed in normal codes of civility and morality and this is what remained.

They craved a free life, whatever that meant.

In the mid-1980s, not much about this movement was known by those of us in the United States. There was no news of daily life and very little contact, just as with North Korea today. We knew there was a tyrannical regime ruling the East Side of a once-united Germany, but we had little knowledge of the rise of a resistance movement that would eventually assist in the demolition of the wall.

The Atomic Blonde is Lorraine Broughton, an agent of British intelligence who enters the East to find a list of double agents in Russia and Germany slated to be brought over to the West before they are slaughtered. She learns quickly that she can trust no one and faces a constant stream of lies, betrayals, violence, and death, right in the midst of emerging political chaos.

All the action seems to take place in a matter of weeks, and we are given a front-row seat to some of the strategies used by the resistance movement to foil the violence of a cruel regime.

Here's what's particularly interesting. The film is about spies and states. But they are not the actors that are driving the political narrative forward. The spooks did not cause the upheaval. They were there to adapt and move within the action, protecting their own as best they are able given fast-changing events. We are shown a revolution from below, how a people united in the goal of freedom will never be defeated. No matter how mighty and bloody a regime may be, it is powerless in the face of a population that refuses to submit.

Posted by at August 5, 2017 8:01 AM