Thursday, January 5, 2012

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Even though the Berlin Wall fell, making the Cold War and the manichean world view it spawned, an anachronism, the sensibility of one of its most prominent fiction chroniclers, John le Carre remains au courant. The Cold War created le Carre. And  it’s not the first time that war has spawned beauty (All Quiet on the Western Front and Journey to the End of the Night are two masterpieces deriving from World War I for example). That’s the curious thing about the artful espionage le Carre creates. It’s existential substrates don’t prevent it from having an oracular quality that transcends the time in which it's written. Le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was adapted for television in l979 with Alec Guiness playing Smiley. Now Gary Oldman has the role, with his nemesis Bill Haydon played by Colin Firth. The sensibility of the current movie is a like a post-modern piece of architecture, full of jagged edges, in which flashback and memory, reality and illusion create a canvas of willed confusion. Bill Haydon juggles both ideology and sexuality in such a way that Smiley’s job becomes almost philosophical, depending on a mixture of phenomenology, epistemology and teleology to unearth a quisling. Before le Carre, spies operated in a far simpler universe in which they simply tracked each other down. The current Tinker, Tailor makes it clear why the Circus is such an appropriate name for British intelligence and why a character named Control (John Hurt) is a contradiction in terms. This is just brilliance on le Carre’s part but it’s something the director Tomas Alfredson captures in spades as the viewer of the movie shifts in and out of the shadows of experience, watching sense deteriorate into nonsense before his or her eyes. Reason has a very short half  life in le Carre's universe and spying. as the current adaptation demonstrates. mostly nearly resembles Plato’s famous allegory in which reality appears like a shadow on the wall of a cave.

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