Reviewed Books & Films

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Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Argo: Acclaim, Misconceptions, and the Priority of Entertainment

APA The widely acclaimed film Argo swooped up numerous awards last year including prestigious Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. The film offers a riveting, intense story of a creative CIA plan to "make a fake movie" in order to save hostages in a volatile Iran in 1980. Despite the high entertainment value, the film does exhibit some stereotypes that are worth critiquing.

In her review of the film, Jaine Darwin observes the reductionistic, all-or-none quality of the film to portray the U.S. democracy as good and the Iranian theist state as bad. No doubt this is done in part to create a deep allegiance in the viewer and intensify the climactic scenes. In addition, a strong theme of the film is the CIA agent's decision to disobey authority and orders and continue the undercover plot despite increasing danger. Darwin points out that this perpetuates "the misconception that in order to be successful or to survive, one must fail to obey orders." Such behavior is rampant in the action film genre as well as in those involving political and government plotlines.

Do you agree with Darwin's observations? To what extent does this detract from your appreciation of the film?

In some cases, filmmakers have to choose to sacrifice some degree of accuracy in order to provide more extensive entertainment. Is there a line that can be drawn in terms of amount of accuracy sacrificed for level of entertainment gained?

Read the Review
ReviewThe Golden Fleece Redux
By Jaine Darwin
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2013 Vol 58(23)


Mary Gregerson

This incisive review mirrors nicely the recent "Amplifier" review of four 2013 Academy Award winning 2012 films. "Argo" is one of these films, others are "Life of Pi," "Silver Linings Playbook," and "Lincoln." "The Amplifier" is the newsletter of APA Div 46 Society for Media Psychology & Technology (see; pages 15-18, which also include commentary on "The Oscars")
My colleagues and I turned mainly to Jung while Dr. Darwin turned to Freud for a conceptual framework of analysis. That cinema evinces such classic psychological frameworks is a small indication how the gathering storm of cinematic influence more and more falls under the watchful eye of psychology.
Thanks, Dr. Darwin, for giving us even more to think about in terms of "Argo."

Danny Wedding

Dr. Gregerson is the editor of The Cinematic Mirror for Psychology and Life Coaching, and coeditor of the recent book Teaching Creatively and Teaching Creativity (with Heather Synder and James Kaufman).

Pauline Hall

I will agree with Dr. Darwin that Argo perpetrates misconception of “one must fail to obey in order to survive”. Movie is a very powerful tool to persuade, when people were indulged in the dark, comfortable, relax but exciting environment, it was as comfortable as “in the womb”, people would become highly suggestible and follow the way it portrayed (Mulvey, 1990). I will be influenced by the film also, depends on the degree of excitement it provides.

Dr. Darwin also mentioned the binary of American is good and Iran is bad in Argo. Furthermore, such all-or-none value of American is good and others are bad is omnipresent in the mainstream movies. The American, using their strength to fight against the rule and authority, is pictured to be the hero of the society. Steve Neale mentioned audiences often relate themselves to strong, physically capable male characters, the more perfect, more complete, more powerful ideal ego (Steve, 1993); in Argo, when audience identified with the hero i.e., Affleck, the ego of “to disobey the government establishment” in order to become hero has been reinforced. Towards the end of the film, the “hero escape from Iran” is further patronizing the positive human initiative of American.

To enhance the excitement of the movie, the airport scenes constitute the climax of the film by sacrificing a certain degree of accuracy. In reality, for example, the hostages went to the airport and were only briefly delayed the airline (reviewed by Bibbiani, I will view this discrepancy as the style of the Hollywood movie – making up a fantastic chase scene at the end of the movie. Besides, Argo has been criticized for its historical inaccuracies; especially for minimizing the role of the Canadian embassy in the rescue of the American fugitives, and for falsely claiming that the Americans were turned away by the British and New Zealand embassies (reviewed by, to omit such important information is just another mean to perpetrate American is good and others are bad but not really enhancing the entertainment level of the film.

Mulvey, L. (1990). Visual pleasure and narrative cinema. In Psychoanalysis & cinema, by Mulvey, Laura, 24-35. Florence, KY, US:Taylor & Frances/Routledge

Neale, S. (1993). Masculinity as spectacle: reflections on men and mainstream cinema. In S. Cohan & I. R. Hark (Eds.), Screening the male: exploring masculinities in hollywood cinema (pp. 9-20). London: Routhledge.


In respond to the question where filmmakers have to choose to sacrifice some degree of accuracy in order to provide more extensive entertainment. In a surface point of view, I believe yes, filmmakers could sacrifice some and even a large degree of accuracy in order to provide more extensive entertainment, because people pay to watch the thrill of a film, not a documentary.

However, as a viewer, it would also be unfair to have a movie stating " Based on True story" but also altering the plot to provide extensive entertainment. When a film states its based on a true story, Argo and The hurt locker for example, it exerts a certain educational degree which if portrayed in a different aspect, would be equal to altering history. Therefore, my point of view is if a movie specifically states its based on a true story, it is not acceptable for it to alter major scenes and history to gain more entertainment. But if the film attempts to reenact a story without stating its based on a true historical event, it could potentially sacrifice the degrees of accuracy.


I don’t watch movies a lot but it is nice to be sitting in a cinema and be wrapped in excitement. I know the story is not true. After all, it is entertainment. But if a movie claims to be based on a real event, this gets very misleading. I doubt there is one “based on a true story” movie would come out and explain to the audience how much truth has been retained. Movie is a very strong tool to affect people. When we are done watching a based on a true story movie, how many people, who do not know what really happened in real life, would question the truthfulness of the movie? The director has already led us to believe his interpretation of this “true story” was pretty much all true. And we are left with a sense to agree with the director who the good or bad guys are.

I find this form of adaptation deceptive. Since there are no guidelines to follow and no rules to restrict how much truth has to be kept, any movie can be a true event as long as there is a real life character in it and he eats and sleeps. Directors can make any movies based on whatever event they like. Unless it’s a story that is 100% true, I don’t think it is fair to misrepresent an event or a person. If I had enough money, I could go make a movie about a famous movie director and change half of the content to whatever I like. It is still a “based on a true story” story, I just decide to change half of it and mislead everyone who does not know this famous director. Now, where is my sense of ethics to the misrepresented individuals and responsibility to history?

Zac Ratten

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Editor of PsycCRITIQUES

Danny Wedding, PhD

Chair of Behavioral Sciences,
College of Medicine,
American University of Antigua

Associate Editors of PsycCRITIQUES

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