I’m going to admit it right off the bat here. I spent $10 to see Benedict Cumberbatch on the big screen. It’s not that I wouldn’t have been interested in The Fifth Estate had he not been cast, but I might have waited for it to come out on DVD to do so. I didn’t even get to see Pacific Rim in theaters and that movie is totally up my alley in every way, but I’ve just become a lot pickier about what films I spend my money on. Judging by the audience in the theater, I wasn’t alone in making the decision to see the film based on the lead actor. There were seven people total at my screening. There was me and my roommate, the three fangirls behind us (we could tell right away that they were fangirls because they collectively gasped when The Hobbit trailer began), and two guys in the front row who probably had no idea who this Ceneditch Bumbernatch guy was and were actually seeing the film for the plot. Many people would probably groan at the thought that such a large portion of the audience is made of fangirls when the subject matter of the film is so incredibly serious. But is that really such a bad thing? In my opinion, not really. It has the potential to promote discussions among an audience that might not have much exposure to such topics and that is overall a net good.
The Fifth Estate follows the story of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and journalist Daniel Domscheit-Berg during the rise of the information releasing website from 2007 through 2010. If you’re not one to keep up with current events, this website has exposed some of biggest global secrets of our modern age. They crippled a multi-billion dollar bank, blew the lid off of Scientology, and released the list of British National Party members (basically the extreme far right of the UK) to the public, among other things. The information that brought them the most notoriety is the release of the Baghdad airstrike video and subsequent release of war logs and sensitive government cables. This information was passed to WikiLeaks by soldier Chelsea Manning (known as Bradley Manning at the time of the leak) who was swiftly arrested and dishonorably discharged from military service. Manning’s legal battles as a result of these leaks continues to be in the headlines to this day while Assange is currently living in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, protected by asylum granted to him by Ecuador.
The ethics behind the release of this information is hugely debatable and has no easy answer. Should information be passed on completely unfiltered or should exceptions be made when it puts people’s lives at danger? People feel passionately on both sides and a large portion of the film is dedicated to exploring that very issue. It’s not really a black and white issue, even though people really want it to be. I’m courting angry comments by even suggesting that there is no easy answer and I’m aware of this (and bracing myself for backlash). Though the film is based on a book that is highly critical of Assange, I feel that he was depicted as a man who just wanted to be true to his own set of morals, which often clashed with the morals of those who worked with him. By saying this I’m not saying that I agree with Assange’s morals, nor am I saying that he’s a saint (he can be kind of a jerk and don’t get me started on that whole sexual misconduct issue), but just that his point of view is one that can’t be unilaterally vilified.
So what does this all have to do with fangirls? Chances are very good that you came to this article through some sort of social media. Tumblr seems to be our biggest source of traffic, but many of you come to us through Twitter and Facebook as well. Some of you may arrive here through a direct link or some other means, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that almost all of you are connecting to us through the Internet. We all use digital technology to pass along information in some way shape or form. Much of what we talk about may be less important on a global scale (though often very important to us), but it’s very extremely for us to understand how the tools that they use everyday can be utilized in ways we might not even consider. It can be used to pass along pictures of people we find attractive or it can be used to pass along thousands of top secret cables. It can be used to deconstruct media or to topple governments. The power is at our fingertips and most of us don’t even really realize the full extent of that power.
What we choose to do with this power is up to us and you shouldn’t feel guilty if what you spend your time on isn’t exactly a revolutionary endeavor. When I’m done here I’ll probably go look at some cute pictures of cats for a bit and then maybe complain about something on Tumblr. I’m not sure yet. But a fair number of movie viewers will probably spend at least a little bit of their time looking into the topics discussed in the film, which is a very good thing. The whole point of WikiLeaks is that information should be free and unfiltered, so by looking up information on your own you are pretty much doing what the website encourages people to do. You are seeking out more information on a topic that interests you and that’s pretty awesome. Some might even deeply debate the moral and ethical issues presented in the film, which is also a good thing. These aren’t matters with easy answers and the more points of view presented, the better we can understand the dilemma from all sides.
Many fangirls might immediately start fawning over Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance, and you know what? That’s fine too. Nobody should feel ashamed for liking what they like just because their primary interest isn’t some big political endeavor that’s going to change the world. As soon as the credits rolled the two guys in the front of the theater booked it while me and my roommate turned around and struck up a conversation with the fangirls behind us. We laughed about how Benny almost always plays a character that prevents his good friends from having sex. We talked about how a Purple Shirt of Sex made an appearance in the film. We complained about how blond hair isn’t exactly an attractive look on Benny (and how funny it is that when it’s revealed that Assange dyed his hair, many of us seemed to automatically think less of him for some odd reason). That club dancing scene was something none of us will be forgetting any time soon. We all very much enjoyed Cumberbatch’s performance and will be recommending it to our friends. Our enjoyment of the film will inspire others to see it, causing more people to think critically of these issues and research these topics on their own. Remember, this is a good thing.
I did question the pacing of the script a bit, but it had to cram 3 years of history into a 2 hour film, so there’s bound to be a some rocky pacing. The visual were also quite stunning, particularly the endless office with hundreds of Julian Assange’s managing the desks (when faced with a room filled with so many Benedict Cumberbatch’s, my roommate whispered “heaven”). It’s not a perfect film, but overall I feel like it set out to do what it was trying to do. It wanted to start a conversation and it was using Daniel Domscheit-Berg’s book as a launching pad. It entertained, it educated, and it attracted a new audience to an important topic. I definitely recommend this film, especially to people who are only vaguely aware of the WikiLeaks issue. Then I recommend you go home and start Googling things. Don’t just take the films point of view as fact. Go find more facts and educate yourself. The flow of information is kind of the whole point.
For more information about the controversy surrounding The Fifth Estate try reading Cumberbatch Reddit AMA- Sarcasm, Time Traveling Cheekbone Polishing Parties, & Personal Message to Julian Assange
Author: Angel Wilson
Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. She earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. She’s contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. She’s written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. She identifies as queer.
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