It’s fitting that the character of Edward Snowden doesn’t appear in the new teaser trailer for the Oliver Stone-directed flick about his life. Real-life Snowden is not just “the most wanted man in the world,” as the trailer forebodingly tells us, he is also the best-known champion of personal privacy on Earth.
Snowden, which stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the title character, tells the story of how one thoughtful young man went from Army recruit to government employee to the most important whistleblower of the 21st century, blowing the lid off the surveillance state we are living inside. Snowden released his massive trove of National Security Agency documents back in 2013, but the repercussions of his actions are still rippling through the US. Just this month, the Senate let an aspect of the Patriot Act lapse that was used to justify NSA spying on the metadata of American citizens. It was the small but important first step in holding government accountable in the tug-of-war between personal liberty and national security. (And even this isn’t over, as just today a court ruled that the NSA could extend its bulk collection of that data for 180 days.) None of it would be possible without the complicated figure at the center of Stone’s film.
Will Stone portray Snowden as a hero, or a traitor? Hard to say. The trailer emblazons text over an image of an upside-down flag, which can be interpreted as the upheaval of our nation that Snowden’s revelations unleashed. It’s a rich symbol, which will undoubtedly be seen differently by Snowden’s fans and detractors. Many argue this upheaval is vitally important to maintaining a healthy, transparent, and honest society.
Snowden’s critics will see in the inverted flag a symbol of treason. Famous for not shying away from politically fraught territory, Stone co-wrote the screen adaption, which is based on two books, The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man and Time of the Octopus.
Snowden hits theaters Dec. 25.