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The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags are used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.
For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for Argo can be found here.
CIA operations specialist Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) formulates a plan to enter Iran and rescue six Americans—Joe (Scoot McNairy) and Kathy (Kerry Bishé) Stafford, Mark (Christopher Denham) and Cora (Clea DuVall) Lijek, Henry Lee Schatz (Rory Cochrane), and Bob Anders (Tate Donovan)—who went into hiding following the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran during the Iran hostage crisis (1979-1981). With the help of film producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) and Hollywood make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman), they concoct an elaborate ruse of a Canadian film crew scouting locations in Iran for a science fiction movie called Argo.
Argo was filmed from a screenplay written by American screenwriter Chris Terrio, who based his story on two sources: (1) a selection from The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA (2000) by American CIA technical operations officer Antonio J. Mendez and (2) a 2007 Wired Magazine article, "The Great Escape: How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans from Tehran" by Joshuah Bearman. The movie won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 2012. An earlier version of the rescue was also portrayed in the television movie Escape from Iran: The Canadian Caper (1981).
The storming of an embassy was practically unheard of, even during the World Wars. The CIA had practically no agents in Iran, as it was considered a staunch US ally and, therefore, not a worthwhile target for espionage. At the time it was unclear what sort of new regime would emerge in post-revolution Iran, so America maintained her embassy in Tehran in the hope of forging friendly links with the new government. Instead the entire diplomatic staff was taken prisoner and Iran demanded that, in return for their freedom, the US unfreeze Iranian financial assets abroad, apologize for past meddling in their country's affairs, and return the Shah who was undergoing treatment for cancer in the US.
No, the British Embassy actually sheltered them before moving them on to the Canadians where they could blend in better with their accents and which was not also under threat of being stormed in just the same manner as the American Embassy was. The New Zealand Embassy also gave help including smuggling the group to the airport for their escape.
The "filming crew" is finally allowed to board Swissair flight 363 to Zurich. As the plane taxis to the runway, the Iranian guards, having just gotten word that the "filming crew" are actually the American escapees, race out onto the runaway in police cars and trucks, but the plane is going too fast. It lifts off, flies over them, and heads out over the Caspian Sea. The escapees sit tight until the stewardess announces that they have left Iranian airspace. They then hug each other joyfully. In the aftermath, however, they are not allowed to speak the truth about their daring escape, because it is considered classified. All credit is given to Canada. Sahar (Sheila Vand) is admitted entry into Iraq, Canadians Ken (Victor Garber) and Pat (Page Leong) Taylor are honored for giving refuge to the group following their escape from the embassy, John Chambers is awarded CIA's Intelligence Medal of Merit for his involvement, and Argo is put into "turnaround". Mendez is secretly awarded the Intelligence Star after which he returns home to his wife and son.
In real life, the narrow escape at the airport didn't actually happen. In the context of the film, it can be reasoned that stopping the Swissair flight would have created a diplomatic incident and the Iranian revolutionaries would not have wished to anger Switzerland, which had much of Iran's oil wealth secreted in its banks by the Shah. It could also be construed that the guards at the airport might be reluctant to publicize to their superiors that they had allowed the Americans' escape.
Following the escape of the Americans hiding in the Canadian consulate, the US military attempted a rescue on 4/20/1980, of the remaining 52 hostages, spearheaded by the newly formed Delta Force. That operation was called Eagle Claw. However the helicopters involved ran into a severe dust-storm which disabled several and caused the mission to be aborted. This mishap would be compounded by tragedy when two of the aircraft being used collided, killing eight of the rescue force. All the hostages would be released in early 1981 as the Shah had, by then, died and Iran was engaged in a war with Saddam Hussein's Iraq and desperate for its frozen assets abroad to be freed in order to fund the war. The hostages were released as the newly elected US president, Ronald Reagan, was taking the oath of office in his inauguration ceremony.
According to former US President Jimmy Carter, whose administration had to authorize the CIA's part of this whole operation, this film is a dramatized Hollywood exaggeration of the agency's role in the extraction when in reality "90 percent of the contribution to the ideas and consummation of the plan was Canadian." (Source: "Jimmy Carter sets record straight on Argo" by Charlie Smith on February 25th, 2013, The Georgia Straight.)
Yes, in the early 1950s, the Iranian Prime Minister nationalised his country's oil wealth causing Britain and the US to fear that this was the first step to Iran becoming a communist ally of the Soviet Union as many post-colonial countries had during the Cold War. Given Iran's huge oil reserves and geographical domination of the Persian Gulf, this would have been a disaster for the West. So, with British and US help, the Shah seized power and the nation went from a constitutional government to an absolute monarchy. The Shah's reign was dictatorial with his ruthless secret police (SAVAK) suppressing all dissent but in many ways was also very progressive, e.g., recognizing Israel, advancing women's rights, education, and the economy including land reform. Unfortunately, native resentment of the Shah and his Western supporters led to his government's overthrow in 1979 (when he was abroad for cancer treatment) and the rise of the Islamic Fundamentalists led by the Ayatollah Khomeini soon afterward that instituted a government notorious for its own brutality and reactionary social policies. The Academy Award nominated animated feature film, Persepolis (2007) presents one Iranian's view of life in Iran during this period.
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