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Examining why many U.S. citizens fail to see President Trump as corrupt, Peter Beinart, in a recent Atlantic article, argues “what the president’s supporters fear most isn’t the corruption of American law, but the corruption of America’s traditional identity.” With this concept of corruption, American viewers of the Russian-set film Red Sparrow may recast our interpretation of the film to examine how it comments on current U.S. politics, even in light of its overt critique of current Russian politics. As an example of the wave of second Cold War films, Red Sparrow suggests that, in a time with traditional identity values at stake, the two current governments of Russia and the U.S. seem more alike than different, both operating at the expense of the individual.

Viewers familiar with first Cold War films are initially comforted by familiar images of Russia. However, soon we realize that Dominika Egorova, a disabled former ballerina turned spy, is acting out values we associate with ourselves: a free-thinking individual, she exhibits a larger sense of patriotism and duty to family. These values force her to protect herself by combating the corruption of the Russian government made personal in the criminal actions of her uncle, the Deputy Director of Russia’s external intelligence agency. Because her values align with our dearly-held notions of American ethos, viewers identify with Dominika and, in the process, must confront the inferred necessity of maintaining our values by fighting corruption in our own government.

Thus, this essay argues that Red Sparrow compels American viewers to look not outward but inward. Like a mirror, it manipulates our longtime fascination with Russia to direct our gaze at ourselves, to evoke a reevaluation of how we maintain traditionally held values, including concepts of duty and patriotism, even if that loyalty demands contesting our own corruption.


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  • Institution
    • Dahlonega

  • Publisher
    • University Press of Mississippi/Jackson

  • Date submitted

    19 July 2022

  • Additional information
    • Author Biography:

      Dr. Donna Gessell is a Professor of English at the University of North Georgia on the Dahlonega campus, where she teaches courses in literature, linguistics, composition, and pedagogy. Her most recent publication include “Judith Ortiz Cofer and the Ecology of Creating Identity,” South Atlantic Review: Journal of the South Atlantic Modern Language Association, (2017) 82(3), 27-45, and a chapter in Routledge Handbook of Pacifism and Nonviolence, entitled “Peace Pedagogy from the Borderlines,” Routledge Handbooks in Philosophy (2018) 371-920, co-authored with colleagues Drs. Bricker, Deng, and Proulx, as a part of a NEH grant exploring the enduring question “What is peace?”

      Book or Journal Information:

      Cold War II: Hollywood's Renewed Obsession with Russia