The film engages in that grand juxtaposition of the mundane and the grand, the fundamental and the extraneous. The issues at stake are obviously incredibly important in our present political order and touch on themes as old as social evolution itself. Yet they are presented in bland, disconnected scenes: daggy hotel rooms, official tribunals, lecture theatres. Citizenfour does not present entertainment nor polemic, it is simply a reminder that these leaks occurred, how they happened, and what it means for the public and the polity.
Since the film was created by one of the journalists involved in publishing the NSA leaks it can be seen as an attempt to reflexively assert control over the public narrative. This is discussed at length in the film: the public’s reaction to the leaks, the NSA’s tactics of damage control, personality, distraction. Interestingly Poitras does considerably indulge in the character of Snowden, perhaps judging that enough time has passed for his personhood to shine through in larger form. He comes across as very mechanical, with strong convictions and moral rules; wedded to the PC.
With Snowden still in Russia, Assange still in Ecuador, this particular chapter of post-2001 scandals and leaks is still playing out. Is privacy dead? Is privacy a synonym for liberty? No film will ever answer these questions and Citizenfour doesn’t try to. But it does offer a few compelling points of view and in a way embellishes the larger debate (which some would argue isn’t even occurring).