Bridge of Spies: Communism in Modern Film

Steven Spielberg’s film Bridge of Spies is all about the Cold War the United States was engaged in with Russia. In the past, the Cold War was presented in a different light in the film industry compared to the way it is portrayed now. The majority of citizens alive during the Cold War were terrified of communism and HUAC condemned many different actors that were seen as sympathizers or even communists themselves. Many films made were used as propaganda to try and sway the public to hate communists threatening the safety of the USA. Bridge of Spies utilizes similar content, but from a more modern viewpoint.

In the past, films such as Trouble in Paradise (1932) and Comrade X (1940) portrayed “commies” in a negative light. Communists behaved like crazy people and had no sense of humor. Anyone that was even slightly related to communism was feared. Although there were a few pro-soviet films, such as The North Star (1943), for the most part pro-communism films were looked down upon. In Bridge of Spies, the suspected communist spy (Rudolf) is a very sympathetic character. Spielberg worked hard to evoke a sense of empathy among the viewers. Rather than being portrayed as “deranged” or having “no sense of humor”, Rudolf is given a small amount of wit and cleverness. He remains silent for many of the scenes and when he speaks he acts in a calm manner. This is drastically different from the way communists were depicted during the Cold War. If anything, the CIA is looked at as the bad guy. The story makes the viewer want Rudolf to succeed, in a way.

Additionally, Tom Hank’s character could be seen as a communist sympathizer. However, rather than being seen in a bad light, like in previous films involving communism, the communist sympathizer is the protagonist (Donavon) of this film. His efforts to secure Rudolf’s freedom are not purely out of duty to America. He genuinely cares that Rudolf lives and has his life back. Donovan sees the communist as a person, not just “the enemy”. During the Cold War, this film would have been seen as pro-soviet. Spielberg would be attacked for making a communist film. HUAC would have gone after actors like Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance. Most people in Hollywood would have wanted to purge the industry of their radical views.

Bridge of Spies does not present a new theme in the film industry. Movies about communism and the Cold War have been made before. However, Spielberg’s film does present a new way of viewing the Cold War, as well as communists. The filmmaker worked hard to tell both sides of the story, not just simply staying anti-Soviet and pro-American.

There are many parallels between Bridge of Spies and the current situation with the Middle East. American’s are paranoid that any Islamic person in our country is a suspected terrorist. This film not only presents a new viewpoint of the Cold War and how we treated suspected communists, it is also a social commentary on how we should be acting in modern times.

Spielberg’s film is a salute to past Cold War films as well as symbolism of the political situation our country is in today.

-B

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