Joseph Stalin orchestrated the 1932-1933 Ukrainian famine in which an estimated 3.9 million people died, about 13 percent of the population. His goal was to replace this region's small farms with state-run collectives and to punish all those who posed a threat to his totalitarian regime. Extermination of the farming community became a matter of state policy. Like many other victims of genocide, these Ukrainians died for an idea — Stalin's reorganization of the Soviet Union.
Mr. Jones is a serious and sobering film about the Ukrainian genocide. It directed by Agnieszka Holland with a debut screenplay by Andrea Chalupa. James Norton plays Gareth Jones, an ambitious Welsh journalist who is determined to follow-up on the success he achieved when he luckily landed an interview with Adolf Hitler on an airplane. Now he wants to interview Joseph Stalin. With some help in London, Jones manages to make it to Moscow.
Walter Duranty (Peter Sarsgaard), the British-born Moscow editor of The New York Times, is a mysterious figure who invites Jones to some parties but is not much help in arranging the interview. Nor will he help when Jones gets a tip that something is going on in the Ukraine and seeks papers and safe passage to the area. When he finally reaches his destination, Jones is totally unprepared for what he sees and experiences. One of the people he meets along the way, George Orwell (Joseph Mawle), encourages him to speak the truth regardless of the consequences. The writer is drawing upon what he has seen for his allegorical novel Animal Farm. The other journalists, including Duranty, don't want to know what is happening, let alone publicize it.
In the Director's Statement, Holland talks about the contemporary relevance of this story:
"We knew, when shooting this film, that we are telling an important timeless story. But only after I realized how relevant is today this tale about he fake news, alternative realities, corruption of the media, cowardness of governments, indifference of people. The clash of Jones's courage and determination against Duranty's cynical opportunism and cowardice is still valid as well. Today, we don't lack corruptible conformists and egoists; we lack Orwells and Joneses. That is why we brought them back to life."
Although set in a particular time and place, we see this film has having universal implications. In his book Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others, philosopher David Livingstone Smith writes:
"Dehumanization is a scourge and has been for millennia. It acts as a psychological lubricant, dissolving our inhibitions and inflaming our destructive passions. As such, it empowers us to perform acts that would, under other circumstances, be unthinkable."
When a government regards whole segments of its population as less than human, disposable and despicable, we do truly terrible things to each other. That is the main spiritual takeaway from Mr. Jones.