Mr. Jones” is a movie I bought, and put off watching. I knew it would be sobering, and I’d already heard the story: The Soviet government under Stalin pillaged Ukraine, stealing the private farms of productive peasants and forcing them into miserable, termite colony-modeled collective farms. Then the Party seized all the grain they’d raised in that immensely productive region, and sold it to fund Stalin’s project of building massive factories.
Stalin knew that Russia was ill-suited for Marxism (as Marx himself had scoffed). The proletarian revolution was supposed to happen in an industrialized society, not an agrarian one. This according to the simplistic, paint-by-numbers scheme which Marx used to analyze the whole history of the human race, and also predict its future.
So instead of adapting his theory of governance to suit the hundred million concrete human beings he ruled, Stalin decided to carve them up to match his theory. He would shock-industrialize a country so large it has 11 separate time zones, and force it to become a military power. So Stalin ordered the Party to seize all the food that was grown in Ukraine, and sell it to buy machinery. He caused an intentional famine, which killed between six and 12 million people.
And the New York Times reporter who was assigned to Ukraine, Walter Duranty, lied about it.
Indeed, he led a campaign of deception and discredited truthful reporters who filed honest stories about this massive crime of genocide. Duranty did this because he was sympathetic to Communism and cosseted by Stalin. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his false reporting, which the Pulitzer Committee has still not revoked, and the New York Times has not returned.
This is the kind of story young people in their formative years need to see. They ought to develop the proper skepticism toward establishment media, and the requisite hatred and contempt for communism. They must learn to see that virtue is beautiful, even when it ends in suffering, while sin is cheap and repugnant, even when wicked people seem to prosper. There is no more important lesson any young person could learn.
And this beautifully filmed, brilliantly acted, truthful film accomplishes all that. No surprise, it was made by the gifted Agnieszka Holland, who has written or directed more than a dozen first-rate films—including my favorite film about sainthood, “The Third Miracle,” starring the late Ann Heche (RIP).
The film tells the real-life story of ambitious young Welsh reporter Gareth Jones, played powerfully by James Norton. He’s building up a reputation as a journalist who lands big interviews—having managed to question Hitler during an airplane journey. Now he wants to match that achievement by interviewing Stalin. He pulls strings and manages to get permission to visit Moscow.
There Jones meets Walter Duranty, a decadent, blasé ruler of his own little fiefdom—the New York Times Moscow bureau. Duranty invites Jones to one of his jazz-addled, drug-fueled orgies, and Jones is a little shocked at the reporter’s luxurious lifestyle—on a journalist’s salary, in Stalin’s Moscow, at the height of the Great Depression. Indeed, Jones starts to wonder how the Soviet government can afford all its pricey new projects, at a time when Britain is prostrate, with massive unemployment.
Duranty says, off-handedly, “Grain is Stalin’s gold.”
And that gets Gareth Jones thinking and asking questions. He wrangles permission to leave the gilded cage in Moscow where Stalin keeps Western reporters. He travels on a train to Ukraine, coincidentally, it turns out, where his mother was born.
And that’s where Jones sees the horror. Whole villages full of corpses. Trains full of walking skeletons, desperate for nutrition. Families driven to cannibalize their children. All because Stalin had seized all the grain they’d grown, and left them to starve. The film does a brilliant, heart-breaking job of showing this story, instead of telling it. You’ll be haunted by some of the scenes.
Jones barely survives, even ends up eating tree bark to sustain himself, and comes back to Moscow determined to break this tragic story. And the Soviets, helped by Duranty, are determined to silence him.
I don’t want to ruin the ending, but suffice it to say that one man of integrity facing a vast Communist Leviathan and its corrupt Western helpers doesn’t have an easy time of it. Just as courageous reporters today, like Julie Kelly and Darren Beattie, labor ceaselessly to expose our own abusive FBI and Department of Justice. When people in power have a personal stake in lies, expect the full force of that power to crush the truth tellers. As Our Lord, who embodied truth once warned us,
If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. (John 15:18-19)
I highly recommend this movie for anyone 12 and over, and especially for parents to watch with their young people. They need to know the kind of world they’re facing, and to see noble examples of courage and heroic witness.