The two films, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, and Russia House, are both on the subject of the Cold War. A comparison of these two films shows a shift, over time and geographically, in the treatment of the Cold War as a subject. In particular, a shift in views in regards to moral issues can be observed in the two films.
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold makes a strong point that the espionage communities of both sides of the Cold War were equally, brutally ruthless, more so than ordinary people imagined, while Russia House shows a shift towards the moral point that pro-Western writers, as artists, will rescue Russia from itself. The factors influencing the difference between the two films include the disparate time periods (1960’s vs late 1980’s), the settings (East and West Germany and Britain, as opposed to Russia and the Anglosphere), and the social roles played by the characters involved (Simply the world of spies, as opposed to writers and scientists). [Click Essay Writer to order your essay]
In The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, the main character, a spy named Leamas, is seemingly drummed out of the British spy agency, which leads him to alcoholism and to a brief stint in prison for assaulting a store clerk. He is then approached by East German operatives, who view him as a likely defector. Not long afterwards, he is approached again by his own agency, who instruct him to “keep drinking” and to pretend to be an embittered defector, while working undercover for the West in order to take down an East German spy named Mundt. He is instructed to work with a Jewish East German agent named Fiedler who wants to destroy Mundt for reasons related to his own ambition.
In Russia House, the Western writer Bartholomew “Barley” Scott-Blair attends a writers’ retreat in Russia during glasnost, where a man called “Dante” is quietly listening in to the conversations. A woman named Katya Orlova later tries to give him a manuscript, which is intercepted and given over to Western authorities. The manuscript exposes the Soviet Union as being completely behind in the arms race. The Soviet Union apparently “can’t hit Nevada on a clear day”. Barley is then recruited as a spy by the West in order to find out more about this manuscript and its significance. It turns out that this manuscript was written by “Dante”, who is actually a renowned Russian scientist, Yakov Savelyev.
The greatest shift in the treatment of the theme of morality in the context of the Cold War stems simply from the difference in the historical periods being portrayed in the two films. The Spy Who Came in From The Cold is set approximately in the 1960’s. In the 1960’s, it was believed that the West and the Soviet Union had similar military capabilities, and the dominant theory was the one of “mutually assured destruction”. By 1990, it was apparent that in fact the Soviet Union was far behind militarily, and was on the brink of either collapse or complete transformation. Reflecting this, glasnost is major factor in the atmosphere of Russia House. [Need an essay writing service? Find help here.]
Because of the difference in historical periods, in The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, the West is portrayed as fighting a dirty fight, while in Russia House, the West is on a moral high ground in relation to Russia. For example, Barley asks Savelyev rhetorically if Boris Pasternak knows that people are allowed to read him again. In contrast, one could even perhaps argue that the USSR even comes off as morally superior to the West in The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, given that Nan the “peacenik” is a pro-Soviet communist and given that it is the West that kills Fiedler, a character who has committed no wrong. However, the real point of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is that the two espionage teams are equally ruthless: Near the end of the film, Leamas says to Nan, “What the hell do you think spies are? Moral philosophers measuring everything they do against the word of God or Karl Marx? They’re not, they’re just a bunch of seedy, squalid bastards like me.”
A motif in The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is the reference to things one “believes” in – “Karl Marx, God, or Father Christmas”. Nan declares that she is an atheist before revealing that she is a communist. In contrast, Katya is of course disillusioned with communism, and tells Barley about a Russian custom where you sit on your luggage and cross yourself before journey. It’s uncertain whether she believes in God, but she doesn’t quite believe in the Soviet version of Karl Marx either. She believes in something that gives her hope for the future.
In The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, Leamas explains that all the ruthless, nearly amoral, espionage is done for the sake of the ordinary people. In Russia House, it is ordinary people who wish to see the dissolution of the Soviet Union, in part out of moral or idealistic reasons. While the point of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is that the West has to do “very wicked things indeed”, the point of Russia House is that the USSR will inevitably collapse and should be viewed sympathetically, indeed that the people of the USSR are not its government, or military, or system.
Geographical setting, just like time-period setting, plays a role in the two films’ treatment of moral issues in the Cold War. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is set in East and West Germany. Mundt’s Nazi past is mentioned, despite the fact that he is a communist. The setting of the two Germanies emphasizes that the difference between the Soviets and the West is ideological as opposed to cultural. The killing of Fiedler is the ultimate symbol of the West’s lack of moral high ground in The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. Leamas says to Nan near the end that London made them, “Kill Fiedler. Kill the Jew”. Fiedler, for the most part, was only doing his job. Fiedler being a Jew is symbolic of the blurred lines between Nazi Germany, Soviet East Germany, West Germany, and the West itself: All of these people are somehow willing to kill “the Jew” for the sake of expediency, none are morally above doing so.
Savelyev, like both Fiedler and Nan (who is also killed by the West), is in some ways a character who is in between the two worlds of the West and Soviet Union. The West in Russia House does not kill anybody. Indeed, the West is such a “good guy” in Russia House that when Savelyev says to Barley, “You’ve betrayed me” (to the West), Barley responds, “Nobody has betrayed you. The authorities admire your work”.
While in The Spy Who Came in From the Cold the geographical settings help to emphasize the ruthlessness and lack of black-and-white morality of the spy world, in Russia House, the settings – Russia, a writer’s retreat in Russia, and so on – emphasize the resistance of artists and ordinary Russians to the Soviet government. When asked why he keeps going to Russia, Barley says “I love the place”. Earlier, Katya says that she makes a distinction between her country and “the system” that her country is under. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is about the amoral side of the Cold War, and being set in Germany, which is still sometimes associated with its Nazi past – helps highlight that. However, Russia House is a bit more on the subject of the ambiguities of Russian culture or values, in relation to Western culture and values. For example, in Russian culture there is both a tradition of socially critical literature, and a historical tendency towards authoritarian government.[“Write my essay for me?” Get help here.]
Overall, the Western public’s views of the Cold War, ideological communism, and the people of the Soviet Union shifted over time as they were presented with new information. In the 1960’s, there was little information available to the West on life behind the iron curtain – and thus the association on most people’s minds was a war-like one, while by the late 1980’s there was an increase of curiosity in particular about Russian culture and literature on the part of Westerners, as well as a more pro-Western attitude among Russians. Thus, a shift towards a more hopeful view of the Cold War is evident within these two films.