‘Reality’ Ending, Explained: Was It Fair To Charge Reality Winner Under The Espionage Act?


Reality, directed by Tina Satter, tells the tale of a simple woman who took it upon herself to expose the corrupt government and bring the truth to light. Reality Leigh Winner was one of those people who couldn’t turn a blind eye to whatever developments were being made in the political landscape of the country. She was a proud American, and she wanted the reins of her nation to be in safe hands. There came a point in her life when she didn’t understand how loyalty to one’s nation could conflict with the priorities of the sitting government.

The execution and creative routes taken by Tina Satter are the main reasons why this one-and-a-half-hour-long drama is able to leave such a long-lasting impact. The director makes us feel the jitters and maintains an air of tension and apprehension throughout the first half of the movie. The story is quite simple and straightforward, but what makes it different from other films of the same genre is the way it gives us a glimpse of the conflicting psychologies of those involved and how it keeps itself restrictive yet doesn’t lose out on the essence. The decision to not turn Reality into a biopic and show only those tense moments where the FBI reached with a search warrant and finally ended up arresting Winner, was probably the best one. Tina Satter’s film is not a story of a whistleblower who wanted to change the world but about a simple girl who loved her freedom and didn’t want her own people to be misled in any manner.

Spoilers Alert

‘Reality’ Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?

Reality Winner was in the United States Air Force until the year 2016, and after that, she moved to Georgia and joined an international corporation that provided services to the National Security Agency (NSA). On June 3, 2017, special agents Justin G. Garrick and R. Wallace Taylor arrived at her house and told her that a search warrant had been issued in her name as the government had reason to believe that she had mishandled classified information. Reality was very calm and composed, and she didn’t try to get in the way of whatever the FBI wanted to do. Her behavior made it look like she had nothing to hide though she was panic stricken on the inside. To say the least, it was a weird confrontation that was happening, and as a viewer, you cannot ascertain where that conversation was going. At times, it felt like Reality would take the officers by surprise and try to flee or do something unprecedented, but nothing of that sort happened. The film refrains from providing any sort of information about the secret intel that had been leaked in the first half of the film. Something told us that Reality’s behavior had startled the officers and made them confused, as they believed that she would be more defensive and aggressive in her approach. But Reality was talking about her pets and all sorts of things unrelated to the ongoing conflict as if she was pretty sure that the accusations being made were a result of some misunderstanding and that she had no role to play in the scheme of things. The agents searched her house, and Reality told them that she had a storeroom where they could sit and talk properly. They went inside the house and that’s when the real drama started unfolding and we got to know what was actually happening. 

How Did Jim Comey’s Expulsion Threaten Democracy?

At the beginning of the film, we see the news of Director James Comey being fired from his position as the director of the FBI, playing on television. We knew then that, though Reality Winner was neither related to Comey nor did he have any direct involvement in the film or her life, it was important to mention him as their intentions and motives behind doing what they did were quite similar. Both felt that the people needed to know the truth in a democracy and maintaining the sanctity of the electoral process was paramount. What use is a democracy when it doesn’t serve the people but is limited to the interests of those few sitting at the top of the food chain?

Jim Comey was the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation when, in 2016, just before the elections, the Republicans were adding fuel to the rumors of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton being involved in certain dubious activities that had compromised the security of the nation. Hillary Clinton was accused of using her private email server instead of the official handle provided to her for making any sort of communication. The FBI conducted a year-long investigation under the leadership of James Comey and came to the conclusion that though Clinton had broken a rule because of her negligence and carelessness, she didn’t have any criminal intent behind it. But Donald Trump and his entire team knew that to influence public perception, you do not need concrete proof, and sometimes just a little bit of doubt is enough to fill society with hate.

Donald Trump, like any other authoritarian, had a lot of control over the media, which often acted as his mouthpiece. They created this air of mystery around Clinton’s character and made it look like she had the intention of betraying the nation and leading the masses astray. Hillary Clinton lost the election, and somewhere, Jim Comey felt guilty because he blamed himself for the timing of the FBI investigation and Hillary Clinton’s defeat. After Trump was made president, there were allegations that there was Russian interference in the 2016 general elections and that Trump was secretly collaborating with Russian spies, trying to rig the outcome of the elections and causing the obstruction of justice. Though the Trump administration gave a lot of explanations as to why they removed Comey from his position, it was very clear that they didn’t want Comey at the helm of affairs because there was a chance that he would have carried out a fair investigation without listening to what the Trump administration wanted him to do. Trump had set a dangerous precedent by firing Comey, and the statement was loud and clear that raising a voice against the regime could have adverse consequences. Trump, like many of his contemporaries, was trying to change the democracy into an elected autocracy. He wanted the notion of democracy to serve as an illusion for the general public, among other things.

Comey’s expulsion had triggered Reality to do something about the ongoing situation. She knew the kind of risk she was going to take, but something within her told her that it was about time somebody spoke up and told the government that they cannot get away after making a mockery out of the election procedure and playing with the trust of the people.

‘Reality’ Ending Explained: Was It Fair To Charge Reality Under The Espionage Act?

Even when Reality was working on a contractual basis for the NSA, she had a top-secret security clearance, and FBI agents were a bit surprised to hear that. Reality had leaked a report from the NSA, which talked about how Russia had interfered in the 2016 United States general elections and hacked into the voter data. The irony was that the website, The Intercept, which was openly offering the citizens to print any information they had about the Russian involvement in the 2016 elections, was the one that had exposed Winner’s identity. It was said that an employee working at The Intercept had warned the FBI that something of that sort was going to happen, and that is how the FBI had reached Reality’s doorstep.

The ending of Reality reveals to us that Leigh Winner was found guilty of violating the Espionage Act, 1917 as she had secretly taken classified material and made it available in the public domain through The Intercept. Reality paid a heavy price for speaking the truth. The irony was that when the report came out in public, a majority of citizens and politicians considered it to be the highest form of public service, but the person who was responsible for uncovering the truth and risking her own life to bring it to light was sentenced to almost five years in prison.

Reality felt helpless, and she knew that whatever was happening was not right. She didn’t know that her report would cause such an uproar, but she knew the consequences of leaking a classified document. She had thought about it for a long time and then came to the conclusion that she had to bring the corruption to light, to let the citizens of the United States know that their own leader had played with their trust so that he could stay in power. On June 2, 2021, Winner was released from prison, and after the 2016 controversy, not much was talked about her in the media. She was not a history sheeter or a habitual criminal, and that is why she was petrified when the agents arrived at her house because she knew that her entire life would be turned upside down. She was a patriot in the true sense, and even after knowing the implications of her actions she made sure that the American people knew the kind of person they were dealing with and how he was trying to use his power and position for his own vested interests.

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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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