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Rightwing Attacks "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" as Anti-Western, Too Complex?

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by Anthony Kaufman
December 12, 2011 12:35 PM
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Conservative critics and pundits are taking aim at Tomas Alfredson's brilliant new adaptation of John Le Carre's "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," calling the film anti-western and criticizing its moral equivalence and suggesting the very thing that makes its worldview engaging and real -- its complexity -- is somehow incorrect.

The latest attack can be read at the Daily Beast, with historian Andrew Roberts calling the film impeccably produced ("subtle, taut, intelligent, gripping"). but critizing the film and Le Carre for "his insistence on having moral complexity" and its "attempt to portray western democracy as being as morally compromised as Soviet Communism."

Roberts singles out a few lines in the film, which suggest the West and East were both morally culpable. "We’re not so different, you and me. We've both spent our lives looking for the weaknesses in one another's systems. Don't you think it's time to recognize there is as little worth on your side as there is on mine?"

Roberts calls the statement "repulsive." How could someone suggest that "the democratic West in the Cold War, with all its faults but with its free press and representative institutions and rule of law, was in some way the moral equivalent of the totalitarian USSR, with its gulags, censorship, satellite slave-states and its cowed and oppressed populace," he writes.

I'n no historian, but I don't think the film ever suggests anything so explicit. In fact, the one torture scene we see -- and it's quite brutal, in fact -- is Russians doing horrible things to the British (and other Russians). We might hear that the American agents engage in torture, but we never see it. And there's no arguing that the Brits, however drab, conflicted, pitiable, or petty they might appear, still come off better than the ominous KGB. And when the "mole" is revealed, he is no more or less "evil," just another frail human being. Indeed, perhaps "Tinker Tailor" is as much about moral equivalency as the emotional toll the Cold War had on its warriors, whatever their political persuasion.

Roberts, and other conservatives who know Le Carre's work and cite his famous anti-Iraq war sentiments ("America has entered one of its periods of historical madness, and this is the worst I can remember: worse than McCarthyism, worse than the Bay of Pigs, and in the long term potentially more disastrous than the Vietnam War"), don't see the ultimate point: As I argued in a previous post:

"One could say that lines like that have something to say about our present world, but I think it's more an overwhelming sense of hopelessness and despair that envelopes the film, a sense that there's no right or wrong, there's no good or bad, and every side is as corrupt and unjust as the other, that speaks to our current realities."

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