‘Bridge of Spies’ screening demonstrates resilience
Isolation and patriotism shined through in the film, shown by Visions & Voices.
Isolation and patriotism shined through in the film, shown by Visions & Voices.
Several minutes past 7 p.m. Monday, the lights inside Norris Theater slowly dimmed, pulling the audience 66 years into the past while simultaneously telling a story with modern relevance.
The story was “Bridge of Spies” (2015), the latest installment in the School of Cinematic Arts and Visions & Voices’ War, Justice and Democracy in the Films of Steven Spielberg series. The screening was followed by a panel featuring screenwriter Matt Charman in conversation with professors Luis Moreno Ocampo and Ted Braun.
Set against the backdrop of the Cold War and based on a true story, “Bridge of Spies” follows American lawyer James Donovan as he defends Russian spy Rudolf Abel at his American trial, later negotiating the trade of Abel for captured American citizens Francis Gary Powers and Frederic Pryor.
What sets the film apart from other spy stories is how grounded it is in normalcy. Donovan, an insurance lawyer by practice, remains deeply committed to the United States Constitution in his defense of Abel, despite Abel’s status as a Russian spy on American soil. Despite Cold War paranoia in the U.S. and the immediate threat this court case presents to his family, Donovan’s resilience and commitment to the idea of a fair trial and due process are an unwavering truth to his character throughout the story.
The pathos of his character is found in scenes with his family, where they express concern over his publicity from the Abel case, and the tension builds to the point of Donovan’s house being shot at by advocates for Abel’s death. The familial tensions in the Donovan household are all based on true experiences, which served as the crux of the emotion in the script’s early drafts.
“I had met [Donovan’s] son,” Charman said. “He was so emotional about his father’s story, and the kind of quiet patriotism of his dad … and all of the memories came back … the house being shot up, him being bullied at school, just the price that came with what his father did.”
Quiet and isolated patriotism is the key to understanding the main point of “Bridge of Spies,” Charman said. In the film, Donovan stands alone against a justice system that is determined to put Abel on the electric chair; in the final scene, he also stands alone on the bridge when he stops the prisoner trade until both American citizens are physically guaranteed to be returned home.
Madelyn Sequeira, a junior majoring in international relations, attended the screening and said the film allowed audience members to empathize with the story onscreen. It also commented on the prejudice against foreign officials, she said.
“[“Bridge of Spies”] played a huge role in humanizing things,” Sequeira said. “Having the individuals seen as people made me shift my mindset.”
In his determination to both provide Abel with a fair trial and retrieve both American citizens from Berlin, Donovan upheld the value of each individual’s life with stubborn determination. Charman depicted him as an isolated individual propelled purely by his belief in American ideals and justice, ultimately prevailing.
Apart from the thematic meditation on pure commitment to American ideals, the film does an excellent job of balancing the serious nature of its subject with breaths of comedic relief and lightness, said attendee Blane Solis, a freshman majoring in film and television production.
“This huge war is happening, and [still] there’s room for fun,” Solis said. “There’s room for inside jokes. These are human people.”
In a powerful monologue, Rudolf Abel tells Donovan about the standing man — a man who Abel saw beaten, yet he refused to stay on the ground after each lashing. It is because of this, Abel believed, that the beating finally stopped, and the man was set free.
Above all else, the single monologue may be the center point of “Bridge of Spies.” Beyond the ideological barriers between nations or the imposed beliefs of superiority between states, it is man and man who stand confronting each other in the end.
“[Steven Spielberg’s] commitment to showing how hard it is to … have a belief in a set of rules in a constitution and follow it through,” Charman said, “was a brilliant license.”
It is the purity of Donovan’s belief in a universal justice which articulates the theme of the film: Only when a human being can recognize the humanity of the opponent that change can be enacted, but seeing through the gauze of ideology often means standing alone for some time and advocating for that belief.
It is for that reason that the standing man is the one who enacts change.
In his final line of dialogue, Abel calls Donovan a standing man, for at the price of his own reputation, he took the first lashings to change public opinion, and in his strength, he and two American citizens walked free.
“[The standing man speech] was something that needed to be said for the thematics of the movie,” Charman said.
By the end of the panel, the audience understood the “standing man,” leaving with a palpable sense of responsibility to protect the integrity of freedom and resilience, beyond the scope of American citizens.
We are the only independent newspaper here at USC, run at every level by students. That means we aren’t tied down by any other interests but those of readers like you: the students, faculty, staff and South Central residents that together make up the USC community.
Independence is a double-edged sword: We have a unique lens into the University’s actions and policies, and can hold powerful figures accountable when others cannot. But that also means our budget is severely limited. We’re already spread thin as we compensate the writers, photographers, artists, designers and editors whose incredible work you see in our daily paper; as we work to revamp and expand our digital presence, we now have additional staff making podcasts, videos, webpages, our first ever magazine and social media content, who are at risk of being unable to receive the support they deserve.
We are therefore indebted to readers like you, who, by supporting us, help keep our paper daily (we are the only remaining college paper on the West Coast that prints every single weekday), independent, free and widely accessible.
Please consider supporting us. Even $1 goes a long way in supporting our work; if you are able, you can also support us with monthly, or even annual, donations. Thank you.
Click on the different category headings to find out more. You can also change some of your preferences. Note that blocking some types of cookies may impact your experience on our websites and the services we are able to offer.
These cookies are strictly necessary to provide you with services available through our website and to use some of its features.
We provide you with a list of stored cookies on your computer in our domain so you can check what we stored. Due to security reasons we are not able to show or modify cookies from other domains. You can check these in your browser security settings.
These cookies collect information that is used either in aggregate form to help us understand how our website is being used or how effective our marketing campaigns are, or to help us customize our website and application for you in order to enhance your experience.
If you do not want that we track your visit to our site you can disable tracking in your browser here:
We also use different external services like Google Webfonts, Google Maps, and external Video providers. Since these providers may collect personal data like your IP address we allow you to block them here. Please be aware that this might heavily reduce the functionality and appearance of our site. Changes will take effect once you reload the page.
Google Webfont Settings:
Google Map Settings:
Google reCaptcha Settings:
Vimeo and Youtube video embeds:
The following cookies are also needed - You can choose if you want to allow them: