Ben Affleck’s Argo tells the nail-biting story of a CIA operative tasked with the rescue of six people from Iran during one of the most heated moments of the Iranian revolution. Affleck, known for films such as The Town (2010) and Gone Baby Gone (2007), further develops his signature style and distills his focus in this film. Argo continues Affleck’s exploration into the idea of escape. Since Good Will Hunting (for which he wrote the script), Affleck has demonstrated an awareness on the importance of escape – its difficulties, its necessity, and its constant place in our daily lives. In Good Will Hunting and Argo the main characters must battle fear, imprisonment, and must ultimately escape, but while the force that keeps the characters captive varies in each film the course they follow to overcome it is the same.
Affleck depicts escapes differently depending on context: escape can be courageous, as in the escape of Will Hunting, but it can also be cowardly as in the escape of the Shah to the United States. Will Hunting (Matt Damon) lives in a world dominated by the constant fear of abandonment. This fear makes him emotionally crippled and stalls his life in spite of his genius. Throughout the film, Will suffers bitterly in the prison that is his mind, a penitentiary keeping him from real happiness and greater life experiences. Yet, he escapes. The end of the film shows Will breaking-free: free from his past and free to pursue his life and his love.
Conversely, Argo frames the Shah’s escape from Iran as running away rather than breaking free. The framing narration on the events leading to the Iranian Revolution at the start of the film accomplishes this task. This narration carries the weight of truth as a direct message from the director to the audience. It unequivocally denies the one piece of dialogue by the Shah in the entire film: his claim of ignorance of the torture of the Iranian people under his rule on a television interview. Good Will Hunting works towards Will’s escape from being a bad situation to becoming a better human being; Argo points out that the Shah was nothing but a bully during his rule and a coward at the end of it.
Affleck’s films vary from other movies dealing with ‘escape’: in them escape is a necessity rather than a luxury. Will Hunting must break free from his way of thinking and his method of connecting with people in order to experience true happiness. Perhaps, the escape of the six American fugitives from Iran more clearly and directly displays the need of people to escape, since the danger they flee seeks to harm not only their mind but their lives. The six fugitives, Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), the Canadian Ambassador, his wife, and their maid (Victor Garber, Page Leong, and Sheila Vand), escape from a group of people who, if successful, would execute each and every single one of them. Affleck’s body of work shows a gradation on people’s need to escape, but no matter how small it never ceases to be an essential part of life.
Argo and Good Will Hunting teach that escape requires courage and guidance. Both of these films extol courage with many proofs of its goodness: the courage of Tony Mendez to escape a requirement to just “follow orders”, the courage of the fugitive Americans to trust a person they have only known for a few days with their lives, the courage of Will Hunting to leave his past behind, and the courage of Sean Maguire (Robin Williams) to let the tragedy in his past go. However, these characters needed help. Both these films cast a character who acts as a guide to the others. This guide, Tony Mendez in Argo and Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting, is flawed, human. This suggests that the people we need to endure our trials and thrive in our lives walk among us, in fact, we may be those people to someone else.
Argo points out many other equally important things besides escape: the ability of the media to unite people across the earth, the surprising places where one finds inspiration, how technology helps human connection, etc. However, as a community of forward-thinking people, we should always keep in mind how essential escape can be, that running away does not equal escape, and, most importantly, that sometimes we need others to guide us and that we may be the guide for others.