Love Your Enemies as You Love Yourself

Paper by Jacob Mansour.

Realpolitik​: ​A political system that’s not based on beliefs, doctrines, ethics, or morals, but rather on realistic, practical ideas.

Had the United States and Soviet Union been able to effectively put this idea into practice at any time during their cold war, the past century as well as our current world today may have looked very different. However, the two world superpowers were so deeply entrenched in Red Scares and anti-capitalist propaganda that they left themselves no other option but to focus solely on eradicating the other. Despite history, there are those who still see respect, and even friendship, between enemies as a possibility. ​The film ​Bridge of Spies ​(Steven Spielberg, 2015) is a film that claims such things are indeed possible. ​The film f​ocuses on the tentative prisoner exchange at ​Glienicke bridge, and the ​social contentions between the two opposing sides that made the exchange so perilous. However, the film also highlights similarities between the two sides, to make a claim about human nature in conjunction with politics of war. Spielberg’s claim is an optimistic one, that the folly of human nature to constantly squabble and war over our differences can indeed be overcome by fostering mutual respect and understanding between men; the climactic bridge scene most significantly emphasizes this argument in two ways, first in the use of cinematography and dialogue within the scene itself, and second with its relation to the previous sequences of scenes between Donovan and Abel, which utilizes subtle dialogue parallels and mise-en-scene.

The movie as a whole is riddled with symbolisms and parallels, with the climactic bridge scene absolutely brimming with them, but for what purpose? They insinuate that despite how the two sides have grown to despise each other, the countries and the men they are comprised of are not as different as they wish to believe, and Donovan and Abel become the physical example that humanity can indeed overcome their differences. Even the film itself is titled ​Bridge of Spies​, symbolizing the metaphorical bridge Donovan and Abel create, overcoming the dark water that is their countries differences. Seeing as how the title corresponds with an actual scene, these symbolisms are the most obvious and thus where this scene analysis begins (Geoffry 2). The scene is a long one, comprised of my shots on the Glienicke Bridge and Checkpoint Charlie. It opens at night with the “shadows of war” (Spielberg 2:04), as the trailer described, hanging over the landscape. The bridge however, is bright white with snow and lighting, representing the only untainted connection in this otherwise cold war of lies and deception. This is shown in the screencap on the left, where a sea of shadows clearly surrounds this bright bridge of hope between two sides. It’s a physical manifestation of the bridge Donovan and Abel have built across the dark water that is the result of the conflict surrounding them. The second thing to notice in this screenshot is the design and material of the bridge itself; it’s not some wooden rope bridge. It’s a strong bridge literally and figuratively speaking, designed architecturally well and made of steel. So when the last ditch effort by the USSR to hold on to Pryor is revealed, the lighting on the bridge got slightly darker and the tension climaxed. This was the final strain on the bridge between Donovan and Abel, as Hoffman, the CIA agent charged with getting Powers back, gave repeated orders at Abel to cross. Yet despite all this, Abel looks up at Donovan and the lighting comes back even brighter, and the strength of the bridge they built withstands even this. Abel looks out at his clear path home, and out of respect and compassion for his friend he turns to Hoffman and bluntly states “I can wait.” The mutual compassion and respect Abel and Donovan built was able to overcome all the pressures of war, and in a bigger sense, men’s insistence to quarrel with those who think differently was overcome.

As alluded to earlier, the film is full of parallel images between the two countries and their people, and this scene is no exception. Once Pryor is recovered and the exchange finally takes place, this is the image Spielberg produces. There are many correlations drawn between Powers and Abel throughout the film, both as “men simply doing the job they were sent to do.”

Peter Bradshaw argues a similar point, describing in his review of the film “​The movie also gives us intriguing visual rhymes, duplications perhaps inspired by the Berlin wall.” (1) ​This point is emphasized by the shot above, as Powers and Abel are not the only parallel in the shot. The men on both sides are parallel as well, standing with the same number of men in the exact same formation. This is a symbolic image representing each side of the war, and the men that wage it. By representing in image that each side is made of men similar to each other, Spielberg makes the idea of respecting that enemy much more plausible. He bolsters his claim, and war seems more and more pointless the more men can foster mutual understanding.

The final shot of this climactic scene is somewhat different than the first two, and Spielberg’s purpose for doing so is to send a darker message both literally and figuratively. But Donovan succeeded, he achieved the best possible scenario and got both men back. So why the somber ending? The fact of history is that despite this trade, the war continued, and it would take many more men, and many more bridges, before the futile conflict could end. Spielberg ended the scene in an unexpectedly melancholy way in an attempt to show that in the end, it really was simply one human connection amidst a global conflict. Spielberg once again uses lighting to make this message painfully obvious. It is heavily implied that Abel is shot and killed after returning home, thus leaving Donovan alone again on a dark and empty bridge as his connection has now been cut off. The camera position also makes Donovan seem very small in comparison to the rest of the setting, emphasizing how insignificant his one connection was in comparison to an entire global conflict of fear and suspicion. Spielberg, with such an optimistic claim about human nature and their ability to overcome war, ended his film in this manner because such a message puts responsibility on the audience, telling them they too must forge bridges of mutual respect and understanding if they wish to avoid future conflicts. Because while there are a few individual conflicts that have ended in mutual respect, there has yet to be a war that has followed suit.

Many of Spielberg’s claims and argumentative choices are obvious in his use of lighting and camerawork, but there are many subtle ones as well, more often found in the dialogue with slight changes in tone and facial expression. The first dialogue exchange of the scene is a good example of this, which took place between Hoffman and Donovan. Hoffman is calm and nonchalant, despite the fact that he is the agent charged with getting Powers back. Donovan on the other hand is visibly anxious even though he really didn’t have a serious investment in this exchange going well, except maybe an emotional investment. So when Donovan expresses surprise and concern with the line “Hoffman…I think they have snipers.” Hoffman retorts “Yeah I’m sure they do.” Still not understanding, Donovan asks how he’s so sure and Hoffman simply said “Because we have snipers.” This exchange ends with Donovan’s face contorted in confusion as the lack of trust between the two sides surprised him. His experience with the “enemy” has greatly contrasted everyone else’s, and he’s grown very fond of his enemy and trusts him completely. This subtle example is one of many, but in representing Donovan and Abel’s development from enemies of war to friends of man, Spielberg mainly utilizes the growing relationship between the characters themselves.

The character development of the two is arguably Spielberg’s biggest way of making his point, as the process Donovan and Abel undergo was in an end of itself the embodiment of Spielberg’s argument; because if these two men thrown into this global conflict can grow to respect each other and look past the futility of the war they find themselves in, so too can the rest of their countries, and the rest of humanity. To successfully represent this point, Spielberg combins repetition with subtle changes in both dialogue and mise-en-scene to highlight the character development throughout the film. This process begins completely formal and cold, as Donovan knew he was being forced to take this job and he did not want to be associated with America’s new public enemy #1, and Abel was just as stoic as he was with the CIA, who he assumes Donovan was secretly associated with. However despite their preconceived assumptions of each other, the exchange ends with a chuckle and one of the few times Abel smiles throughout the film. In the meeting Donovan bluntly turns down Abel’s request for pencil and paper to draw with, to which Abel states “There are men like me doing the same for your country. If they were to be captured I’m sure you would want them to be treated fairly.” Thus the development between the two begins, and as stated earlier at first Donovan refused to give Abel anything, which can be seen in the first screenshot. But through the second and third screenshots, the development is obvious. Spielberg uses the mise-en-scene of the prison cell, specifically the table, to represent the development between Donovan and Abel. The more they grow to respect each other, the more filled the table becomes, first with a drawing Abel forgot in the courtroom, then finally with a radio playing Abel’s favorite music. However, Spielberg couldn’t very well have this three stage character development reach its final stage using the mise-en-scene of the jail, as that wasn’t where the final scene would take place. But because the mise-en-scene symbolized growing respect and compassion between Donovan and Abel, Spielberg had other ways to complete the message of these scenes within the bridge scene.

In this particular case Spielberg uses camerawork, specifically close up shots of Abel, to complete the message he began in the jailroom. Mirroring the pattern of the jailroom mise-en-scene, Spielberg again creates three close up shots that would represent Abel’s changing heart, and the process depicted by these three screenshots would become the focal point of the bridge scene. When watching the film, there are many close ups of Abel in the first and second jailroom scenes, but in the third one Spielberg refrains from close ups of Abel. This break in pattern is puzzling to viewers until the final scene comes, as it became clear the third close up was reserved for the last time Donovan and Abel would see each other. Simply the radical change in Abel’s expression is enough for viewers to notice how much the two had grown to respect and admire each other. The mise-en-scene of the jailroom, and paralleled close ups of Abel, Spielberg put a lot of effort to show the growing relationship between the two (Andrews 3). His purpose for doing so was because if Spielberg could physically manifest one of America’s most feared enemies in history, a character who represents a country that instilled so much fear and paranoia in the American public for half a century (Debruge 1), and show that same character develop a compassion and respect for an American who held up his country’s most treasured values in the face of so much adversity, then suddenly the idea of respect between enemies seems a lot more feasible for the audience. If these two with so much going against them could achieve it, then fostering mutual respect and understanding between enemies transforms from a fools dream, to a necessary goal, if the world ever hopes to end avoidable large scale conflicts between men.

Finally, many great films have one special line that is developed throughout the film, and finally come again in the climax to make a statement. “I am Iron Man” from ​Avenger’s: Endgame i​ s an example, albeit a decade long example. Spielberg utilizes this same technique in the length of the film to finally drive his claim home, first revealing the line “Stoik Mudzhik (Standing Man)” in the first act as Abel described to Donovan how he reminded him of a man from his childhood. The line comes to represent the idea of standing for one’s values even in the face of adversity, as Donovan is doing when defending Abel. Donovan even mentions it when addressing the court, stating dramatically “Will we stand by our cause less resolutely than he stands by his?” This theme in the dialogue comes to its head in the bridge scene, in that final moment described earlier when their bond was tested by the conflict surrounding them. The shot
on the left is from the moment Abel looks at Donovan one last time and says “Stoik Mudzhik”, words the CIA agent telling him to go can’t understand, both literally and metaphorically. The mutual fondness and respect that grew between the two, for one moment, overcame all the suspicion and conflict that completely surrounded them. They grew to embody the very same concept of mutual respect they discussed in their first encounter with each other, and by doing so Spielberg effectively drove his optimistic claim on human nature home. The mise-en-scene, the lighting, the dialogue, the cinematography, all of it was to show the audience that with some common understanding and respect humanity indeed has the capacity to overcome even their worst prejudices and conflicts.

“Love your enemy as you love yourself.” It’s ironic a Christian nation could fail to remember such a crucial tenant of its beliefs in a time when it was needed most. However, Bridge of Spies​ serves as a gentle reminder from a child of the cold war (Rosser 2) that not everyone forgot, and despite the history of humanity, not everyone has given up on the possibility of a world free from the human tendency to war over differences between men. It’s quite a different message from the film ​Paths of War​ (Stanley Kubrick, 1957) which emphasized the futility of a man trying to overcome war and it’s injustices resulting from human nature. Perhaps the dichotomy in messages is in part due to the time each was created, one by a man looking back on his childhood in the Cold War, another by a filmmaker whose just witnessed the end of World War II and can see another conflict on the horizon. No matter the case, the idea that humanity may one day overcome conflict amongst themselves still exists, whether it’s truly believed in or not.

Works Cited

Bradshaw, Peter. “Bridge of Spies Review – Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance Red Hot in
Steven Spielberg’s Magnificent Cold War Thriller.” ​The Guardian​, Guardian News and Media, 5 Oct. 2015, film-review-tom-hanks-steven-spielberg-cold-war-gary-powers-u2.
Debruge, Peter. “Bridge of Spies.”​ Variety,​ vol. 329, no. 14, Oct 13, 2015, pp. 81-82​. ProQuest​,
Jacques, Geoffrey. “Bridge of Spies.”​ Cineaste,​ vol. 41, no. 2, Spring, 2016, pp. 50-51,55​. ProQuest​,
Nigel, Andrew. “’Bridge of Spies’: Solid Storytelling and Atmospherics.” ​All Things Considered​, (oct 16, 2015), 2015.
Rosser, Michael. “Steven Spielberg Talks ‘Bridge Of Spies’ and Future Projects.” ​Screen,​ 4 Dec. 2015, pies-and-f​uture-projects/5097606.article.
Spielberg, Stephen. “Bridge of Spies Official Trailer #1” (2015)
Spielberg, Steven, director. ​Bridge of Spies​. Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 2015

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