I Love John Le Carre’s The Little Drummer Girl

Before I read The Little Drummer Girl, I saw the movie – probably 25 years ago when I was in my very early 20s. During my 40s (I’m 46 presently), I’ve taught a course called “Israelis & Palestinians” through the Judaic Studies Department at the U of Oregon, and as part of my development of the course I watched the movie again. I think a lot of thedrummer critics wrote that they thought Diane Keaton was not young-enough looking to plausibly play Charlie, the main character. If memory serves, Keaton was a driving force behind getting the film produced, with her playing Charlie, for which I can only say kol ha-kavod (Hebrew which roughly translates to “hats off” to her).

I’m not an expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and I don’t think I’m able to judge how to describe my level of knowledge and understanding, but I guess I’m willing to say that I’m well-read on the subject and that I have a lot of interpersonal experience with Israelis, Palestinians, and other stakeholders, as well as a lot of time spent in Israel and in the Palestinian Territories. I am basically a J Street person in my politics, FWIW, and I’m sure those lenses color how I see things, but I happen to believe that everyone has lenses of some kind through which they approach this topic.

Little Drummer Girl1
Diane Keaton as “Charlie” in TLDG. In this scene, set in a PLO training camp in Lebanon, Charlie, who has embedded herself with the young fighters, is showing the group that she has successfully learned how to quickly load, fire, and reload a rifle.

I think the movie still holds up today, even though I agree that Keaton doesn’t quite look the part, though I am still drawn deeply in by the intensity of her performance, and frankly I’m willing to disregard the issue given that the movie industry frequently presents viewers with men playing much younger characters (Tom Cruise is 53, for example, but the bad-ass spy he plays in the latest Mission Impossible movie is supposed to be younger.)

Actually, I think the movie more than holds up. I think it illuminates the deeply compromised morality of both the Israeli government and the PLO during the Cold War, and it does a rarely equaled job of depicting the two core narratives that define the conflict for Israelis and Palestinians, respectively. The plot never stops moving, the twists are unpredictable, and the underbellies of both sides’ fighting strategies are uncomfortably exposed repeatedly. Along with Steven Spielberg’s Munich (2005) and Eytan Fox’s Walk on Water (2004), TLDG is a film that successfully exposes and explores the moral and human costs of how both sides fight, and, like these other two films, it also leaves the viewer with many agonizing and perplexing questions.

Gotta run – I’ll continue w/this post later.

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One of the things I love about this movie and book is the way we as the audience get to see – through Charlie’s eyes – the covert warriors on both sides in their naked humanity, including the ways in which they’ve come to integrate and justify cruelty into their daily work.


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