By Matthew E. Milliken
Nov. 30, 2014
Argo, the 2012 movie directed by and starring Ben Affleck, is an excellent thriller based on the real-life rescue of six American diplomats from revolutionary Iran in 1980.
The movie quickly sets the stage for its story by having a narrator describe key political events in the history of 20th-century Iran. Essentially: In 1953, soon after Iran’s secular, democratically elected leader, Mohammad Mossadegh, nationalized Western-owned oil interests, the United States helped stage a coup and installed a friendly dictator. The new shah was Reza Pahlavi, whose modernization initiatives were undermined by his hoarding national wealth and his ordering or allowing the secret police to brutally oppress political enemies. In 1979, militant Islamic revolutionaries took control of Iran; the grievously ill shah traveled to America so he could simultaneously save himself from hanging and get treatment for his cancer.
This narration — delivered by Sheila Vand, who has a small but crucial role as a housekeeper named Sahar — brings us to Nov. 4, 1979. A crowd of angry Iranians have massed outside the gates of the U.S. embassy, and Americans trapped on the grounds slowly realize that local officials have no intention of dispersing the mob. Protesters breach first the compound walls and then the actual buildings, detaining more than 60 diplomats and other employees.
But six employees in what appears to be the visa branch evade captivity by slipping out a side exit. Unbeknownst to the Iranians, the sextet find refuge at the home of the Canadian ambassador. Because of the revolutionaries’ hostility toward the secular West, and especially all things American, they’re essentially trapped inside the residence.