Apr 13, 2013

Underground: The Julian Assange Story

This semester I have been studying Introduction to Computer Forensics as part of my post-Graduate studies in Information Science. When my lecturer referred to WikiLeaks during one of the lectures, it reminded me that I missed the screening of Underground when it had been on television and I wondered if I could view it on the TV's webpage or buy the DVD. Anyway, a bit of searching brought me to the Underground webpage and I realised that the film was currently touring. I bought tickets and my husband and I went to see it last night.

Despite a trek half way across the city during peak hour traffic, we arrived on time and manged to get into the theatre. Once we arrived we found out that the viewing was proving to be so popular that they showed it in two cinemas. Dispelling both myths, that there's never anything to do in Perth and that people don't support tours that do come here.

The movie stars Alex Williams as Julian Assange and Rachel Griffiths as Christine Assange. It covers the years when Julian was a teenage hacker in Melbourne and belonged to a group calling themselves "The International Subversives". Jullian Assange's code name was Mendex. They accessed many powerful organisations, secret files and information. But they never changed anything except logs to cover their tracks, never caused any havoc and never stole anything. The FBI contacted the Australian police, who consequently set up Operation Weather to catch the hackers. Anthony LaPaglia played Dectective Ken Roberts who headed the task force, but was essentially an amalgam of several police officers in real life. However, the lead officer was called Ken Day and he says he disputes the claims made in the movie, that Milnet was ever breached. We may never know the truth. 

This movie brought back a lot of memories of Commodore 64's and the sound the modem used to make when you would dial up to the Internet. There were some laughable moments where things we now take for granted weren't yet invented or were just new to everyone. I especially had laugh that passwords were just a word from the English language that a dictionary attack could find. We were all pretty naive back then. 

The film is  based on the book Underground: Hacking, madness and obsession on the electronic frontier by Suelette Dreyfus and Julian Assange. However, Connolly made it clear that he was making a film and not a documentary, so he took licence with dialogue and so on. Underground is mainly centered around the late teen years of Julain Assange, before WikiLeaks and before the World Wide Web
I have read a couple of times before the Internet, but that is technically incorrect as the origins of the Internet go back to the 1960's.
I have read many reviews of this film and I find that many people (especially from my generation)  don't really know the difference between hacking and other types of security breaches that are possible. They also don't know the different types of hacking, or the motivations behind it. I'm trying to educate myself about this, because in an information age where we use the Internet everyday, it's important. It's also dangerous to assume everyone is motivated by the same thing. 
I think that people's views on things like WikiLeaks is going to be very skewed by what they are told by their Governments and what they are told by various media factions and other interested parties. It's our job to read all these things and think critically for ourselves about what we deserve to know, weighed against any associated risks. 

Director Robert Connolly was trying something different by holding a tour of screening events that include a panel talk with key people involved with the movie and a DVD with extras included with each ticket. 
The panel consisted of Senator Ludlam (Australian Greens Senator for Western Australia)Omar Todd, (WikiLeaks Party) Alex Williams (Perth actor, portraying Julain Assange) and  Christine Assange (by phone - Mother of Julian Assange). 
Christine pointed out a few problems she personally had with the movie which are summed up in this article written after the television presentation. 

Christine Assange on Underground, 

the film about son Julian.

The DVD contains the "extras" you might expect on a special edition DVD. For example: Behind the Scenes, the Screenplay and songs from the musical score. 
Below are my tweets. When I got home I saw that Christine Assange had re-tweeted my tweet about her. 


  1. Hmm maybe I should go see this movie.


  2. Great blog Kate - sounds like it was an interesting nite - it's a very compelling story - i really must go see the movie !!!


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