Bridge of Spies

Bridge of Spies is one of the most inspirational movies I’ve seen in years. It reminds me why I went to law school — I had a love for justice, a respect for the biblical roots of the U.S. legal system, and a desire to defend those who could not help themselves.

It also illustrates the kind of relational skills that can save lives and change the course of history.

Inspired by true events, the movie is essentially a story of redemption, the buying back of those who are lost: Rudolf Abel, a Soviet spy, held by the U.S.; Francis Gary Powers, a captured U.S. pilot, held by the Russians; and Frederic Pryor, an American graduate student, held by the East Germans.

Enter insurance defense attorney James Donovan, played by one of the most versatile actors of our age, Tom Hanks.

When the Soviets indicate that they are interested in exchanging Powers for Abel, Donovan is recruited by the CIA to enter East Berlin to negotiate the exchange. When he learns that another American is being held by the East Germans, he defies his CIA overseers and seeks to pull off a seemingly impossible two-for-one exchange.

Putting his own life at risk by traveling repeatedly through the violent, gang-haunted ruins of East Berlin, Donovan displays one of the key skills of a negotiator/mediator: keen other-awareness. He quickly discerns the underlying interests of both the Russians and the East Germans and shrewdly uses those insights to pit them against each other.

The climax is too thrilling to give away … so instead I’ll give you some relational wisdom gems to look for as you watch the movie and think about how you can weave these relational skills into your life.

RW and the Cold War

  1. Discuss this observation from our RW in the Movies post: “The key elements of God’s redemption story are woven into the tapestry of creation and echo through everyday life. Therefore, even when Hollywood writers and actors profess no faith in God, they cannot help but use these elements to present their own stories. In the process they are compelled to draw on and portray all of the relational dynamics that are part of the greatest  redemption story in history: the salvation of the world through Jesus Christ.”
  2. How does Jim Donovan’s role in the Bridge of Spies reflect the world-and-eternity-changing role of Jesus Christ? (see 1 John 2:1)
  3. How does Jim Donovan demonstrate empathy, courage, and integrity as he represents Rudolph Abel in his criminal trial? What inhibitions and reservations does he have to overcome? Why doesn’t he give up after the initial conviction but instead pursues an appeal to the Supreme Court?
  4. How does Rudolf Abel control the fear that any normal person would feel when faced with the likelihood of being executed as a spy? What is his recurring response to worry and fear?
  5. Why does Abel come to trust and respect Donovan?
  6. How does Jim Donovan demonstrate courage, self-control and boldness as he travels through East Berlin? After being assaulted by a gang, witnessing people being machine-gunned, and being jailed by the Stassi, what would most people fear and be tempted to do? Why does he continue on his mission?
  7. How does Donovan respond when he is lied to, manipulated and coerced by both the Russians and the East Germans? What would have happened if he had instead become defensive or allowed anger to control him?
  8. How does Donovan live out the principle of Psalm 82:4: “Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked”?
  9. Donovan shows exceptional other-awareness by accurately discerning the interests of all the parties involved (see Phil. 2:4). How does he use his insights into the tensions between the Russians and the East Germans to advance his own interests?
  10. How does Donovan demonstrate humility when he returns home from his mission?
  11. How does Donovan’s career after the Berlin episode illustrate the truth of Luke 16:10: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much”?
  12. For another example of how relational skills helped to win the cold war, see Reagan, Lincoln, RW and You.

To get a few hints to these questions, watch the trailer below … and then see the movie with family or friends so you can discuss the RW principles alluded to above.

– Ken Sande

PS: If you were praying for our recent 17 day “teaching marathon” to Florida, Virginia and Alabama, here is a report on how God answered our prayers.

Permission to distribute: Please feel free to download, print, or electronically share this message in its entirety for non-commercial purposes with as many people as you like.

© 2015 Ken Sande

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About Ken Sande

Ken Sande is the founder of Peacemaker Ministries and Relational Wisdom 360. Trained as an engineer, lawyer and mediator, Ken has conciliated hundreds of family, business, church and legal conflicts. He teaches globally and has written numerous resources on building relationships and resolving conflict, including The Peacemaker, which has sold over 500,000 copies in seventeen languages.