Help me understand the cold war--or at least a mediocre movie
March 16, 2009 9:05 AM   Subscribe

I have several questions about the 2006 movie The Good Shepherd with Matt Damon, and I haven't been able to find answers from my usual sources. I'm hoping Robert DeNiro is a secret MeFi fan and will step in, providing closure. [spoilers ahoy!]

The IMDB FAQ suggests that Edward's giving of the dollar to Ulysses' aide was a tacit agreement to reveal "the cardinal" a highly-placed asset in the KGB. Wikipedia, however, has the following:

"Ulysses notes of Edward Jr.'s fiancée: "neither of us can be sure about her", and asks Edward, "Do you want her to be part of your family?" Edward says nothing. Shortly after this, Ulysses' aide asks him for change to purchase his daughter a souvenir from the gift shop. Edward asks how much it is, and, upon hearing it is a dollar, hands him a one dollar note, commenting that a cardinal rule of democracy is generosity. This appears to be a reference to a scene from the film's beginning, where a young boy on a bus asks Edward for change for a dollar—when Edward returns to his office, he matches the bill's serial number to a CIA asset codenamed "CARDINAL". So Edward is, in fact, returning the "marked" dollar to the asset, who is Ulysses' aide."

So is Edward betraying The Cardinal (and thus becoming, like his father, a traitor who forsakes his family) or simply communicating with him? Also, why is he being observed by his own people during this transaction? Did Edward bring them along, or are they trying to catch him betraying his country?

Also, what was symbolized by Edward's burning of his father's suicide note? Is it an indication that Edward realizes he has become his father?
posted by mecran01 to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It doesn't help that only six people saw this movie. Sigh.
posted by mecran01 at 9:46 AM on March 16, 2009

This might help...

posted by Busmick at 10:18 AM on March 16, 2009

Sorry...I apparently cant link things...
posted by Busmick at 10:19 AM on March 16, 2009

I don't know the answer to your question, but here is the screenplay for you in case the original dialogue/ stage direction offers and help.
posted by sharkfu at 10:23 AM on March 16, 2009

Trutv link from Busmick. Thanks, the trutv link makes a convincing argument that the exchange was included to show us that Edward had a mole in the KGB.

Just from glancing at the script it looks like it was heavily modified during shooting. For example, it is Robert, Edward's son, who is tossed from the plane and his bride is murdered elsewhere. But it looks fascinating regardless, and I will report back once I've analyzed this latest piece of intel.

posted by mecran01 at 1:12 PM on March 16, 2009

Having just finished watching the film (only the second time I've seen it), I'm convinced that Edward was in fact betraying the Cardinal. I believe it was a tit-for-tat, payback for his son's life as well as for the discovery of Arch Cummings (Billy Crudup) as a mole and that Valentin Mironov (real name Yuri Modin) was a plant. Giving up Ulysses' aide cost him very little (one dollar) but meant very much.

Also, what was symbolized by Edward's burning of his father's suicide note? Is it an indication that Edward realizes he has become his father?

I think the dynamics of this action are as complex as all the spy stuff in the film. Edward has always known that his father committed suicide, and he's hidden that fact to save his and his father's face. He never read the note because he knew that it would dissolve the ambiguity that let him hope that his father didn't allow himself to get in as deep as Edward always seemed to be getting. When he did read it, and came to the realization that his father was unable to control his situation, unable to balance family and secrets just like Edward (or Edward Jr. for that matter), it wasn't that he'd 'become' his father—it was the realization from his own experiences that the power he and his father wielded (albeit in different capacities) was too much for any one man; controlling it was impossible and the difficult, similar decisions both men faced were not a result of who they were but the power they wielded. His father's legacy shouldn't be tarnished by an admission of guilt not because he was innocent but because any man in those circumstances cannot help but to be guilty of something. Edward's father was guilty of betraying his country but not his family (unless you consider his suicide a betrayal), and to Edward—who considers himself to have betrayed country and family—that redeems his father. So he burns the note to save his father even if he can't save himself.

Dang, I hadn't thought about it very much before....that's fucked up.
posted by carsonb at 3:54 AM on March 17, 2009

Those are nice comments, carsonb, thank you. I read somewhere that the position held by Angleton (who Edward was partially based on) is rotated every two years for that very reason.
posted by mecran01 at 10:45 AM on March 17, 2009

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