Directors, Dossiers and the Use of Power

24 11 2011

My wife and I love motion pictures. It has become a tradition for us to go to the movies on Thanksgiving.  This year was a quiet holiday, with our children away at school.  So the tradition continues.

J. Edgar is a bio pic about FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover.  Directed by Clint Eastwood with Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role, the film brings into clear relief this complex man, full of contradictions.

Hoover is seen as a man with a clear, and at times conspiratorial, sense of mission—namely, protecting America from the threat of Communism within and without.  It effectively paints the portrait of a man ruthless in his use of power and information.  Wiretaps and intimidation were tools in his arsenal.

It is interesting how Hoover was seen to be at odds with people who were cut from the same cloth as he, individuals holding high office during the same period that he directed the FBI.  Competent on one hand, but paranoid and opportunistic on the other.  A good deal of the power Hoover held over people came with information he’d secretly, and at times illegally, acquired.  Files.  Dossiers.

Hoover had secrets of his own.  Most of us do.  It’s been said that hypocrisy is the tribute virtue pays to vice.  And this is brought out in the film as well, though understated.

Power is an interesting thing.  When an individual is given power, it usually brings out one of two things in the person.  It either brings to surface the most noble hues of character, intent on serving.  Or it brings out rottenness in the heart.  Power must be handled with great care because it so greatly affects human beings. And it must be gained appropriately, by sheer weight of character, influence and proven ability. Not through intimidation and secrecy.  Thus Lord Acton’s famous dictum: “Power tends to corrupt; and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

The film is effective in its portrayal of the use and abuse of power.  I won’t be surprised to see it win Oscars for Best Actor, Director and Picture.

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