Правозащитник (Standing Man) and Tom Hanks in the Movie Bridge of Spies

My kids and I saw the Tom Hanks movie Bridge of Spies this past weekend. This is not a spoiler to say that Hanks plays an insurance defense lawyer who, court-appointed, represents an alleged Russian spy. This takes place in the heat of the cold war 1957.

The Russian word Правозащитник is used in the movie. It translates generally to “standing man” for someone who will stand up and fight without caving in, whether in defending justice, truth, a friend, or defending principles or rights, etc.

[Readers: please correct me if I am using the incorrect Russian word; To my surprise, I find no Google references to the actual Russian word from this movie.]

Tom Hanks is a standing-man lawyer. And, Bridge of Spies is one of the best movies I have seen in a long time. It also highlights very powerfully the question of whether a lawyer has the courage and fortitude to remain a standing man (or woman) in representing a client. That is, can the lawyer remain resolute in the face of substantial, opposing headwinds and not bow down to the demands of others, whether from other lawyers, family members, neighbors, political or religious dogma, or social pressures, etc.?

I have said often over the years that if a lawyer does not possess an adequate level of personal independence and resolve, how can that lawyer stand firmly with courage and fortitude on behalf of a client? Правозащитник

4 thoughts on “Правозащитник (Standing Man) and Tom Hanks in the Movie Bridge of Spies

  1. James: Mary Ann and I also saw the movie 10 days or so ago. I am not a movie person and do not go to see many movies, but I concur completely — this was a good one! Mary Ann, who sees almost everything that comes out, agreed.
    We also agree with your principaled statements on lawyering!

  2. James:
    I stumbled across this blog today. My son and I had watched Bridge of Spies last night. It was my second time and today I was searching to see if I could find a true copy of the entire script. The Russian dialog during the exchange at the bridge was difficult to hear.

    The Russian phrase used in the movie “стойкий мужик” is made of the noun “мужик” “man” and the adjective “стойкий “standing”. The adjective is rather obscure in this usage but is derived from the verb “стоять” “to stand.” The word you have found, “правозащитник” is a compound noun comprised of a noun “право” “right” and “защитник” “defender” which is in itself a noun made from the verb “защить. When the suffix “ник” is added to any verb it renders a noun meaning a person who does whatever the verb means. Your definition is spot on in the meaning of human rights activist. The image that стойкий мужик conveyed to me was that of a bean bag punching clown which when hit in the nose falls back and then immediately stands up. Both terms have a place in this movie but I think that стойкий мужик better describes Donovan. He was standing up to principle while showing a concern for human rights. Правозащитник would be stronger and befitting Nelson Mandela or others.

    There are some interesting connections here. My father is an Emory Law grad who practiced in Atlanta for many years and my son is a 1L at Washington and Lee. I took a different path in Slavic Linguistics.

    • Thank you. Your comments are very helpful. I tried my best to glean from the movie what I concluded is my best Russian translation. Your analysis is a much better conclusion.

    • For those of us who don’t know Russian (and maybe even for those who do!), this is really fantastic. If you paste стойкий мужик into Google translate, it shows that it’s pronounced “stoykiy muzhik,” just like in the movie. Thanks so much for posting this and thanks to James for asking the question. I was inspired by the scene to write an instrumental called “standing man” but likewise couldn’t find the Russian words or translation into English.

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