In Rob Reiner’s popular 1992 film A Few Good Men, Jack Nicholson plays a hateful US army General, suspected of having ordered an illegal ‘code Red’ to toughen and educate a ‘weak’ soldier, which resulted in the accidental death of the same. When questioned in court, the General falls into a trap, set up by the inquisitive defense attorney, and gets into a nervous fit, where the full nature of his ideology is exposed. He shouts: “You can’t handle the truth!”, a line so shocking it still permeates popular culture today.
Such scene brings to light the ideology and the hypocrisy that structures the political framework of our current democratic states: the conservative notion that a people are not able to ‘handle’ the truth which supposedly guarantees the stability of certain regions of the “free world”; the idea that, in order to keep societies ‘free’, men with guns need to guard them, governments and secret officials need to be in a constant state of alert against a threatening Other, an enemy creeping just behind the border walls. But this ideology is only the veil behind which the powerful hide their schemes, the discourse that justifies the pursual of state terrorism across the world.
The Assange persecution and his subsequent imprisonment and trial has been the greatest hindrance to the collective fiction that is democratic free speech, the hole, the stain, of our incomplete liberal societies. In that sense, Pablo Navarrete’s documentary, No Extradition, is an act of resistance, for it stares at this act of injustice in the face and pleads for a future in which freedom of speech can be effected in all its dimensions. Indeed, the film encourages the viewer to be sceptical of the hypocrisy of the messengers of free speech, as they dissimulate the sacred but veiled ethos of modern day political spectacle: that people cannot handle the truth and that whistleblowers and publishers who seek to democratise historical facts will pay the consequences of such acts of ‘treason’.
No Extradition chooses to represent the events before and after the protest at Belmarsh prison in 2019. Within a purely observational style, Assange’s father, John Shipton, interacts with various people who have come to show their support, while we hear somber ambient soundscapes, mimetic of the grave moral crisis at hand: the reversal of all values, where someone who should be celebrated as a hero for democracy could be sentenced to 175 years in jail for exposing war crimes committed by the US government.
The film is at its strongest when it centres around Assange’s father, a man of character, who has nurtured a palpable praxis of courage and hopefulness. Such glimpses of his cheerful personality come to light, for instance, when he tells Chris Marsden, of the Socialist Equality Party, that he’s ‘got a nice face for someone who has got a lifetime of struggle behind him’. What is perhaps the most memorable scene of the film comes at the end in the form of an interview on a train, where Shipton’s personal ethos is spelled out: to keep struggling, to endure in the struggle, “whatever it costs, you do… even until death. You just don’t count the cost.”
No Extradition showed on May 5th at the Rich Mix, when this piece was originally written. You can stream it now by clicking here.