4 Takes Explaining Why Spy Movies Move Us

There is a hot new spy movie coming to a theater near you.  In Bridge of Spies, Tom Hanks will go from winning World War II to whipping the Cold War. Odds are the film will do very well—in part because the nation that loves liberty also appreciates a little espionage.

Nothing says more about us and spies than our love affair with the movies.  Hollywood reflects both our lust for winning (even if that requires a little under-the-table spying on our part) and our fears that others are out to get us.

Nothing brought out these conflicting passions more than the Edward Snowden affair. In part the public fascination with Snowden’s revelations “panders to our dark desire to peer into the ugly side of intelligence work.”

Indeed, the debate over how to bring Snowden’s story to the silver screen shows bipolar American tastes are when it comes spies who are us.

All this spy stuff must be particularly unnerving to millennials. After all, they were supposed to grow in a post-Cold War world where nobody had any enemies.

But, now they are finding themselves like the unsettled generation that went to the movies in the 1960s-seeing spies all over the place.

Back in the 1960s even as everything seemed to be falling apart, spy movies were mostly escapist fare—all sex, tech, and cool.

Over the years, however, Hollywood has also exposed us to the serious side of spying.

Contemporary audiences are finding themselves broad-sided with both serious films, like the forthcoming Bridge of Spies from Steven Spielberg, and very unserious movies, like the soon to be released Ultra with Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart.

Get used to it.