The Manchurian Candidate

Wow, today was really exciting! Ebert found my blog and actually tweeted a link to it, saying that I write "so well"! I actually felt a little faint, haha! I've always been really inspired by his talent and it means a lot to me that he said that. I actually got the idea to do this project after I went to a local book signing to meet Roger Ebert. He signed the book for my boyfriend with "Start from the top!" and later, thinking about it, I decided, hey, maybe I'd do the same thing!
I was so happy to be able to meet him that night! I grew up reading his reviews, and he always seemed to be the deciding factor on what movies I would head out to see that weekend. I really love his writing, as well - he is so eloquent and reviews his movies in context (as in, he might see a summer action movie and like it for what it is). He seems like he gives things a fair chance, and I really envy his job! He really motivated me to think more carefully about movies, and for sure inspired me to try my hand at film classes and some screenwriting in college.
I was so excited to meet him at the signing, and I loved that he came up and personally greeted each one of his fans. :) Everyone was talking in the line about how all the different ways that he impacted their lives. I was so stoked to have him sign my books and shake my hand - imagine how giddy I was today when he said he liked my writing!

I could probably keep running on about this, but I should talk about today's movie, at some point. It's just been really exciting for me today! So, aside from all of that craziness, today I watched The Manchurian Candidate, directed in 1962 by John Frankenheimer. I actually never saw this film before, nor did I ever see the 2004 version, so I went into this movie with no prior knowledge whatsoever. I came away really impressed, and really in love with this film.

I feel like most people are familiar with this movie, but I'll give a quick summary anyway. The film is about a decorated war hero, Raymond.  He seems a little stoic, and no one seems to be able to recall why he got a medal to begin with. Soldiers in his platoon start to have the same reoccurring nightmare, where Raymond, hypnotized in front of a group of communists, kills two soldiers. Did this really happen? Is assassin? There isn't any proof, but clearly, something is wrong. Bennett Marco pushes for an investigation to be done. Finally, when Marco and another soldier suffering from the dream are able to identify the men they are dreaming of as leaders of the communist party, the army starts to unravel the mystery.

In Ebert's essay, he writes that Frank Sinatra bought the rights to the film after Kennedy was assassinated and
didn't allow it to be released until 1988. Wikipedia says that there is proof that the film was rarely shown on TV and such, and that Sinatra didn't own the rights. It's still an interesting little rumor, whichever one is true. I could easily imagine there being a bit of upset happening around the film, and reading about it added a little interesting mystery to an already amazing film.

The whole story and message of the film is great. I love it when you can find movies that this that still feel new and exciting, despite their age. The satire is still funny - I was laughing so hard at the part when Senator Iselin decides how many people he is accusing of being communists by looking at a ketchup bottle. "57!" It's something that is still really funny today, and it's also still current in it's criticism. I could imagine the media or a politician doing that now, really. Not much has changed, I guess.  People not in politics heavily influence politicians, and much of what happens in politics is simply just dumb. I probably didn't have to point that out :).

The satire isn't the only part that felt fresh to me, though. There is one scene in the beginning, when we see the hypnotized soldiers. They think they are at a garden party with old ladies, and at first, we see them in the garden while a woman explains "fun with hydrangeas". Then, the scene starts switching to show the convoluted reality that they are in. There is this incredible blend of the garden party and the sinister room the soldiers are really in, and I loved how they were spliced together in different ways. We see the woman talk, but the words of one of the communist come out. We see the communist speaking to a room full of old ladies talking notes. Then we see the garden behind the yawning soldiers, but we can see the communists watching in the distance. The whole scene felt really new and unique to me. I don't think I've ever really seen anything like it before. I actually had to back up the DVD so that I could see the scene again, I was so fascinated by the weird blending of the two locations and people, and how perfectly it worked.

I was pretty astounded by Sinatra. I guess I never thought of him as an actor, but he seemed to do great in his role here. All of the acting was really good, honestly. I'm not an actor, so I can't really debate the finer points of performance, but I was just so engrossed in the characters. Angela Lansbury's crazy and manic mother character had to be a lot of fun to play. It's not often you get to be such a fascinating, villainous character!  It was just a joy to watch all the actors and actresses - they really brought the memorable characters to life for me.

Ebert does bring up something I didn't really catch or think about when I watched this film today. He writes that maybe Rosie is controlling Marco, the way that Raymond has a controller as well. He speculates that their conversation is too weird and too familiar for two people who barely know each other. " It seems strange that the Chinese brainwashed the entire patrol, but needed only Raymond as an assassin. Why, then, spare the others with their nightmares and suspicions?" Ebert wonders (Great Movies II, 266). She does seem a little off. when I think of it. I don't really know, but it really is fascinating to think about. I especially like that Ebert was wondering why the rest of the platoon wasn't made into assassins. I was sort of wondering that for the rest of the movie, but I enjoyed the overall film so much that I couldn't really linger on that. Just debating it, though, adds a whole different level to the film.

I really enjoyed this movie, and I wish that I had watched it sooner. I loved that the political satire still applies to current times. and it's still funny and witty. I really loved the masterful camera work, full of interesting angles and scenes that made the film feel really fresh and unique. Since I honestly didn't even know that brainwashing was involved in this movie, I was so into it and engrossed by it! It made it really fun to watch, it's not often we get to see an older movie with fresh eyes. I think it's worth revisiting if you haven't seen it in a while. If you have never seen it, track it down!

Have any thoughts on The Manchurian Candidate? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Ebert's Great Movie Essay on The Manchurian Candidate
Buy it on Amazon

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