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Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies is a good, old-fashioned drama that many moviegoers might also think is about old-fashioned dealings. Cold War stuff. But last December, the US was involved in another prisoner exchange, this time with Cuba. It was part of the beginning of the new diplomatic relations between countries, though many Americans have paid more attention to what that all means for commercial trades rather than the human kind. The exchange may have been on the minds of some Bridge of Spies viewers, however, when the end of the movie reminded them of another prisoner negotiation between the US and Cuba that occurred more than 50 years ago.
Following the events depicted in Bridge of Spies, James Donovan (Tom Hanks’s character) was sent to Cuba for an even bigger negotiation, this time for the release of more than 1,000 prisoners, initially just participants of the Bay of Pigs Invasion (let go on Christmas Eve 1962 in exchange for food and medical supplies). Over the course of many more months of Donovan hanging out with Fidel Castro, however, more Americans, including a group of skin divers who’d washed up on Cuba’s shore after their boat sank and were accused of being spies, and an actual socialite-turned-spy, were freed by the lawyer, again working in an officially independent manner – though unofficially he was on assignment from Bobby Kennedy and the CIA.
When Bridge of Spies ends with mention of Donovan’s subsequent mission to Cuba, that story is treated as just some other thing he did in the remaining years of his short life (he died in 1970 at age 53, which is six years younger than Hanks is now). That title should have instead served more like a “to be continued…” statement, a tease of a sequel. Unfortunately, movies like Bridge of Spies don’t tend to get sequels, even if they’re directed by Spielberg and star an actor like Hanks and could open with a depiction of the Bay of Pigs Invasion just as Saving Private Ryan opened with a depiction of the Normandy Invasion, albeit with very different results.
As I noted, though, such a sequel could be an even bigger movie. And of course a sunnier one. It would still be light on action following the invasion sequence, mainly showing us the meetings between Donovan and Castro, but there are a number of moments that could make for entertaining scenes. There’s the attempt by the CIA to have Donovan unknowingly gift the communist dictator with scuba gear contaminated with tuberculosis. There’s the big fishing trip – in the Bay of Pigs, for an interesting recall of setting – where Donovan brought his son (who by then was 18, not a young boy as portrayed throughout Bridge of Spies) and Castro showed off his impressive spearfishing skills.
The best part might be the supposed real conversation (according to The Nation) that should be the source of the movie’s title, which I propose be Porcupines Making Love. Basically it’s just Donovan telling Castro the old joke about how porcupines have sex – “very carefully” – and how that’s a metaphor for how the US and Cuba need to work together. And it could end a few months after Donovan’s final visit, when as he promised, the US began working with Cuba on improving relations. Instead of Donovan again, though, John F. Kennedy sent French journalist Jean Daniel to handle the continued attempts at diplomacy. Daniel and Castro met and were in talks on November 22, 1963, when the President was shot. “This is terrible,” Castro said to the envoy. “There goes your mission of peace.”
Everything is there for the taking, if anyone is interested (ahem, Coen brothers). The thing about historical stories like this is they don’t have to be direct sequels. Bridge of Spies might not be a big enough hit to warrant an official follow-up – although neither was Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth, but its Oscar recognition helped in the interest for Elizabeth: The Golden Age — but the story of Donovan in Cuba could always be a pseudo sequel along the lines of the planned Tupac Shakur biopic that isn’t officially related to Straight Outta Compton or the unofficial Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas prequel, The Rum Diaries (which even brought back Johnny Depp as another Hunter S. Thompson alter ego) or the unofficial, comedic, names-changed Goodfellas sequel, My Blue Heaven.
Of course, we’d want Hanks back. And Mark Rylance, who plays Soviet spy Rudolf Abel, a man who doesn’t figure into this second story. They could always cast the acclaimed stage actor as one of the Cubans whom the US released in their part of the trade, to make it even more of a paralleling narrative. But actually I think he should get a bigger part in Porcupines Making Love. I’m certain he could do a great Castro. Even if he’s currently nearly 20 years too old for the part (Hanks was nearly 20 years too old for Donovan at the start of Bridge of Spies). Spielberg can sit this one out as a director and just produce if he has too much on his plate.
Given the decent but not spectacular box office and critical reception (its 93% positive on Rotten Tomatoes but with many a caveat that its considered “lesser Spielberg”), we’ll have to see if the Academy is favorable to Bridge of Spies, and not just with Rylance, to know where a demand for a sequel could stand. For now, I’ve made the preliminary case for why it’s a good idea and could be an even greater movie than its precursor now in theaters.