Why This List From ‘Atomic Blonde’ Is Confusing So Many Audiences

Focus Features

Spies have never been so sexy, or in such mortal danger, than in Atomic Blonde. The Charlize Theron-starring action thriller, out July 28, puts every Western spy during the Cold War in jeopardy when a mysterious list of their aliases and information surfaces. And if the Atomic Blonde list was a real thing, then super spies like Lorraine have done an excellent job of keeping it hidden.

In Atomic Blonde, Theron's MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton is sent to Berlin to recover the list of spies from the KGB. The list, hidden on a microfiche in a watch, contains codenames and mission details of CIA and MI6 operatives operating in the U.S.S.R., making it highly valuable to people on both sides of the Iron Curtain. This plot, though based on a graphic novel, doesn't sound so far fetched when you consider the fact that the Cold War is sometimes fondly remembered as the age of espionage. And, yet, if such a list ever existed and was ever in danger of falling into Russian hands, history has kept it a secret — for now. A quick Internet search reveals zero proof of a massive spy list or microfiche document containing secret identities during the Cold War. And, logically, if such a list did exist, it's likely that whichever government recovered it kept it secret.

Real or not, the Atomic Blonde list is definitely something straight out of Cold War mythology. The International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., is full of ordinary objects made for spies to hide information, like this hollow coin used to contain microfilm — just like the watch in the movie. It's not inconceivable to think that a master list of spies, and the subsequent race to retrieve it, really did take place just before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Still, the level of death and destruction Lorraine brings with her on her quest for the list would probably not have gone unnoticed in real life. So, even if the microfiche spy list were real, it's obvious that Lorraine was not.

Let's hope that if there ever was a spy list, those in charge realized their mistake and have never again created another master list of spies. If there's one thing to be learned from Atomic Blonde, it's that it's not good for business.