John Chambers (John Goodman) serves as a guide to the ins and outs of the movie business for CIA agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck).

History on a small scale was made last night when Mary and I drove to town to watch the movie Argo in an actual walk-in theater. We haven’t seen a movie in that old-fashioned way in over a year. Our inspiration was our son Nick’s enthusiastic endorsement of this movie about CIA officer Tony Mendez’s role in the escape of six American embassy staffers from Iran during the hostage crisis of 1979.

First of all, let me add our imprimaturs to Nick’s. From beginning to end this is a movie that has the audience’s rapt attention. Even though I knew the basic outline of the story going into the movie, I found myself wide-eyed and forgetting to breath as the characters were confronted by revolutionary guardsmen at the airport.

But I would also like to add my two cents about something this movie helped to clarify: the true nature of heroism. “Hero” is a term that is applied rather loosely in recent years to everything from people who perform some action worthy of praise (e.g. getting on the elementary school honor roll) to victims (those who died in the Twin Towers on 9/11). This kind of “hero inflation” is deplorable to my eyes because it cheapens a class of people who are truly extraordinary. I have nothing against praising children for their academic achievement nor mourning the victims of terrorism. But that is not the same thing as honoring a person who, when confronted with a choice (choice being the key word), sacrificed self-interest in order to pursue the highest ideals of human behavior. This movie makes clear that Mr. Mendez could have easily saved his own skin – indeed, he was ordered to abort his mission – but he remained in Iran because he could not bear to abandon those six American embassy staffers.

Recent events have shed light on another case of heroism: the security forces in Libya who ignored orders to “stand down” in order to come to the aid of embassy staff. Apparently they put up a ferocious resistance to the Libyan mob but were eventually overcome and murdered. That is heroism. Let us not forget it.