Argo is set during the Iran hostage crisis in 1979. The motivation behind the November 4th raid on the United States embassy in Tehran is explained in the opening scene:
This is the Persian Empire, known today as Iran. For 2,500 years this land was ruled by a series of kings, known as shahs. In 1950, the people of Iran elected Mohammad Mosaddegh, a secular democrat, as prime minister. He nationalized British and U.S. petroleum holdings, returning Iran’s oil to its people. But in 1953, the U.S. and Great Britain engineered a coup d’état that deposed Mosaddegh and installed Reza Pahlavi as Shah. The young Shah was known for opulence and excess. His wife was rumored to bathe in milk while the Shah had his lunches flown in by Concorde from Paris. The people starved. The Shah kept power through his ruthless internal police: the SAVAK. An era of torture and fear began. He then began a campaign to westernize Iran, enraging a mostly traditional Shiite population. In 1979, the people of Iran overthrew the Shah. The exiled cleric, Ayatollah Khomeini, returned to rule Iran. It descended into score-settling, death squads and chaos. Dying of cancer, the Shah was given asylum in the U.S.. The Iranian people took to the streets outside the U.S. embassy, demanding that the Shah be returned, tried and hanged.
During the raid, most of the embassy staff are taken hostage, however, six United States Americans, escaped to the home of the Canadian ambassador. The rest of the movie follows an undercover operation by the CIA to return these six to the United States.
The political leaders of the United States realize that installing a corrupt leader in Iran has put them in a tricky political situation:
Bates: “Those f**ks hit us; we can’t hit them back?”
Malick: “Mosaddegh, we did it to them first.”
Bates: “Think the Soviets would put up with this s***? They’d invade.”
Malick: “What did you expect? We helped the guy torture and de-ball an entire population.”
The Carter administration realizes that they cannot get their people back without releasing the Shah, which they cannot do because they will lose the trust of all of their other puppet leaders.
Butler: “No release until we expel the Shah.”
Titterton: “Well put him on a plan then, f**k him.”
Chief of Staff Jordan: “He’s half dead and he’s in chemo.”
Butler: “We took him in. He’s ours now.”
Titterton: “Great so we’ll take in any pr*** as long as he’s got cancer?”
Chief of Staff Jordan: “No, just the pr***s on our side. So all of our other pr***s on their pr*** thrones know when they get thrown out on a rail, they won’t get their f**king spleens taken out by some camel vet in Sinai.”
The hostages were released on January 20th 1981 after 444 days in captivity. The film illustrates an insurrection against political oppression, two common characteristics of an energy narrative, it just so happens that this narrative happens to be based in fact.
Energy narrative characteristics found in this movie: life=energy, political oppression, exaggerated inequalities, segregation, convenient racism, insurrection.