ALEX Gibney’s documentary about two prisoners, Julian Assange in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London and Bradley Manning in Quantico, will undoubtedly polarise the attitudes of its audience for or against their motivations.
Initially, Assange and Manning come across as well-meaning disciples of firm belief in the world’s right to know the inner workings of governments, embassies and military commands.
The film then explores Assange’s development from a crusader into an oligarch whose behaviour matches that of his targets – devious, secretive. In an interview with Ars Technica, Gibney described him as “somebody who believes that because he’s good, he’s permitted to do bad”.
In contrast, Manning presents as a flawed persona, damaged from childhood, more deserving of compassion.
Inevitably, the film by implication develops some subtle questions. Are we entitled to know how governments, embassies and military commands, with good intentions, covertly perform necessary but disconcerting functions? How does WikiLeaks’s selective manipulation of hacked material differ from the secrecy of its original classification? Do we not have a right to expect that secrets, however unpalatable, generated in the interest of public good, should be allowed to take the consequences of running their course and if unsuccessful, die on the vine?
Assange set the price for an interview with Gibney at $1million. That kinda puts him in perspective! Experiencing Gibney’s achievement without that outlay requires some endurance, but delivers an interesting aftertaste.