The Manchurian Candidate (1962) Directed by John Frankenheimer
I have spent time rummaging through my memory lately thinking of things that have happened to me and that I have done. But what about the things that have happened to me and I've done without having a memory or knowledge of them? Do those things matter? What about sleep, dreams, being a baby, too drunk to know, too scared to know? What about the subconscious, can I know on another level while not knowing at all in my usual daily consciousness?
The Manchurian Candidate claims that it does matter what we do and experience. It becomes dangerous to forget or to not connect to all sides of ourselves, because the fragmented consciousness can be used as a weapon. In the film this issue is presented with connection to war crimes, spying, and political assassinations, but the most disturbing aspect of this intra-personal disconnection is closer to home. A mother hypnotizing her son in order to use him as an assassin is an over-the-top example of the power family members have potentially towards each other.
Our common sense of self-identity is largely based on the ability to master a coherent image of the different levels of consciousness. The Manchurian Candidate shows how fragile and fluid the coherence actually is. It's one of those movies where I get a little bit bored watching it, but come away with a lot of ideas and inspiration.
The Manchurian Candidate is easily in my top 20 films of all time. I have a special relationship with this film. When I first got into films seriously (I was around 13), The Manchurian Candidate was a film you couldn't see. I had read about it, it had legendary status. It was a Holy Grail kind of film that was not in circulation in any form. Just stills in some movie books. Frank Sinatra owned the movie rights and after the John F Kennedy assassination of 1963 withdrew the film from circulation due to US government pressure. Turns out that this was pie in the sky and that distribution issues were at the root of the films disappearance. Of course, such speculation only added to the picture's legend in my mind. Anyway, a restored version was cinema re-released in 1988. This was when I finally saw the picture and fell in love with the film.
The Manchurian Candidate comes across like something that you may read about on Wiki Leaks in 2010. Son of prominent right wing family is brainwashed in the Korean war to become a post-war assassin for Communist sympathizers operating in the USA. The genuinely weird Laurence Harvey plays Raymond Shaw, the would be assassin. Frank Sinatra plays Major Marco, who fought with Raymond in Korea. Marco faces his own personal demons, which he thinks somehow relates to Raymond. Janet Leigh plays Rosie, who helps Marco get his confidence and focus back. The scene on a train where Leigh seduces and consoles Sinatra with small talk is very moving. Yet, Angela Lansbury, playing against type as Raymond's evil mother steals the film. Manipulation, murder and incest all come into her chilling orbit.
I'd make the claim that The Manchurian Candidate is the mother of all conspiracy thrillers. It's sophisticated film making with a pinpoint narrative, where it makes the audience think to get a true understanding. The Manchurian Candidate displayed a style that the film making that was to follow in the late 1960's picked up on and ran with. For me, this remains a found masterpiece and a true original.