by Andy Nowicki

We are often drawn by precisely that of which we are most afraid. Fear induces the production of adrenaline, which in turn operates as a powerful stimulant and pleasure-administer. In this sense it may be said that Red Sparrow, a thoroughly draining, yet quite perversely stimulating spy thriller, operates as a piece of  simultaneous cinematic Russophobia and Russophilia, all in one paradoxical fell swoop.

Like 2014's Shadow Recruit, Red Sparrow is shameless anti-Russian propaganda. It even features an eeee-vil character in a pivotal role who is a dead ringer for ol' Vlad the Terrible. But unlike that earlier bit of cartoonish fluffery, Red Sparrow is actually a powerful, well-acted film. And though it undeniably aims to portray the Kremlin intelligence service in an unflattering light—in contrast with the ostensibly "noble" American CIA—it nevertheless has much to say about the universally acknowledged practices of manipulation and deception honed by intriguers of all nations, real or fictitious, throughout history.

Matthais Schoenaerts as Vladimir Put-- er, I mean as "Egorov" in "Red Sparrow"
Russia, as seen in Sparrow, is a sumptuous land of dark fascination. The accents are huskily sexy, the costumes are sparkly and glamorous, and the interiors—featuring such Russocentric fixtures as the Bolshoi ballet concert hall—seductively luxurious. But it is a country ruled by scheming and ruthless men and women, where the only way to survive is to become tougher and more ruthless than your enemy.

Early on the anti-heroine Dominika (Jennifer Lawrence), a ballerina whose career is ended by a vicious act of treachery, shows herself uniquely capable of taking bloody and brutal retribution against the two fellow dancers who plotted against her. Once she passes this "test," she proceeds to "Sparrow" school, where under the watchful glare of an butchy uberbitch headmistress (Charlotte Rampling), all remaining vulnerability and empathy gets ground into powder and Dominika, along with her classmates, learns to function as an indefatigable instrument of seduction and destruction.

It is in these classroom scenes that the film showcases Dominika's talent at once to at once reveal and conceal herself, depending upon what circumstances call for. Often, cunning proves to be an altogether more devastating instrument than force. A would-be rapist is held at bay by a simple, haughty refusal to quit staring him in the face. Later, a lecherous boss is handled through a deceitful feint of brazen public flirtation, followed by the sudden threat of surveillance-state blackmail. Such behaviors seem to come naturally to Dominika, though it is unclear whether they are innate or learned. Either way, they are the reason why she is able to endure terrible ordeals and emerge victorious, though not without great cost to her body and soul.

The actual storyline of Red Sparrow is far less interesting than its protagonist. There is even a cliched romance involving a "good guy" American agent Nathaniel Nash (Joel Edgerton), who ultimately serves as a kind of foil for Dominka en route to her eventual tragic triumph. These more pedestrian elements detract from, but don't diminish, the film's haunting aesthetic of alluring dread and dreadful allurement.

Lawrence and Edgerton in "Red Sparrow"
To me, however, the most fascinating aspect of Red Sparrow lies in the deliberate manner with which it ascribes well-documented CIA MK-Ultra-style mind control techniques exclusively to the Russian intelligence apparatus.As propaganda goes, this is the equivalent of a child's "I know you are, but what am I?" deflection.

Still, in a sense, Sparrow's makers are at least somewhat honest about the ramifications of the film's dishonestly unbalanced portrayal. At one point, Dominika asks Nash if America is "better" about protecting liberties, to which he shrugs. "We're supposed to be..." he mutters. This grudging demurral doesn't say it all, but it does say a lot.

Andy Nowicki, assistant editor of Alternative Right, is the author of eight books, including Under the NihilThe Columbine PilgrimConsidering Suicide, and Beauty and the Least. Visit his Soundcloud page and his YouTube channel. His author page is Alt Right Novelist. 

1 comment:

  1. Mr. N., reliable sources inform me that "Dominika" gets "dominated" good and proper. Altogether, it seems to satisfy more than one salacious appetite of our liberal friends.surprised they aren't thronging the cinema halls. Perhaps they are drained from repeated views of black panther.