Since WikiLeaks, the organization he founded, sensationally uploaded hundreds of thousands of files of classified information to the internet, Julian Assange has lived his life in different forms of incarceration. It's probably safe to say he could never have imagined how long it would last. In our divisive and contested times, he has become one of the world's most famous fugitives, a political prisoner with British and US law enforcement, in hot pursuit.
In this new documentary so deftly directed by Ben Lawrence and produced by Assange's half-brother, Gabriel Shipton, we get the measure of the toll it is taking on the man. He has been on the run since 2010, however his links to cybercrime have been on the record since 1991 in Australia.
As Assange, now 50, waits to hear the latest legal ruling that will shape his life, he is spending 23 hours a day in solitary in a prison near London, Belmarsh, where he has been since 2019.
Everyone knows, chapter and verse, what he did in the name of freedom of the press and our right to know. Who can forget the vision of journalists and civilians in Baghdad gunned down by an American military helicopter? It ignited support for Assange around the globe.
This is of course not the first film about Assange, but it is the first about his father. John Shipton, a retired builder now inhabiting the world of ideas, who has made the release of his son a late life goal.
To make the film, the director shared a flat with Shipton in England, a relationship of close proximity that has resulted in a revealing portrait of an enigmatic man, now 78 years old, who left his young family when Julian was a three-year-old, but reconnected with him in his 20s.
It is fascinating to meet Shipton, a man who so resembles his son they could almost be siblings. Not only are they alike physically, they have the same gift for language with a similar tendency to speak, from time to time, in riddles like an ancient seer.
The other prominent personality in the film is Assange's wife, Stella Moris, an expert in international law, who was on one of his legal teams. She is similarly articulate and engaging.
When Assange fled to the Embassy of Ecuador in London for sanctuary in 2012, and became a long-stay guest, he could make appearances on the balcony, addressing the media and his supporters, and he could entertain guests like barrister Geoffrey Robertson, fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and singer Lady Gaga.
It is where his relationship with Moris flourished and they now have two children. Since the embassy called in the police, things have taken a more sinister turn for Assange in the high-security prison environment, with reports of weight loss, depression and suicidal ideation.
Assange's father, brother and wife now declare themselves spokespersons for Julian, who can no longer speak for himself. Assange only appears in historical images, like footage of him being carted into a police van or riding a skateboard. Otherwise, he is just a disembodied voice or fleeting image on Stella's smartphone.
If Assange is the world's most famous political prisoner, as the promotion for Ithaka asserts, then we have lost sight of Alex Navalny in Russia. Assange himself has never seemed averse to hyperbole, but whatever views we have about the man and what he does, it's now the bigger issues that matter more. He has already paid a heavy price.
Besides questions of human rights, press freedom and freedom of speech that Ithaka wants us to consider, there is a fascinating portrait of Julian's father here. A one-sided relationship, as we don't hear directly from Julian at any point, but a read of the poem, Ithaka, that inspired the film's title, hints broadly at the type of relationship the two of them have had.
This is a fascinating in-depth study of Assange as he is reflected in the awards bestowed, and the people and the eminent organisations that have rallied around him.
Ithaka. M, 111 minutes. Four stars.
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