Political Film Society - Newsletter #203 - August 10, 2004

August 10, 2004


In 1962, The Manchurian Candidate was released but quickly withdrawn because of a possible adverse impact on the public, which was perceived to be more credulous in those days; the film was reissued in 1988, but the black-and-white format placed the film outside the Hollywood mainstream. That many American POWs had been brainwashed by North Korea was considered shocking in the 1950s, and the possibility of brainwashing candidates for office in the United States was the theme of The Manchurian Candidate. Now in 2004, director Jonathan Demme has decided to do a retake of The Manchurian Candidate, focusing on the technology of brain implants instead of brainwashing. In the process, the new film provides some documentation of a conspiracy theory implicating the Bush dynasty by innuendo, with Orwellian background news about flawed electronic voting, terrorism alerts, and preemptive attacks around the world. The film begins with an episode involving an army unit in Kuwait during 1991, just before the Gulf War, and flashbacks return to that episode on several occasions. Members of the unit received brain implants from a South African medical researcher Richard Delp (played by Bruno Ganz), and two in the group killed two others on the orders of Delp, who is on the payroll of Manchurian Global, a multibillion dollar company that wins lucrative no-bid contracts and has a who's who list of backers, including members of the Shaw political dynasty. The two killers are Sergeant Raymond Prentiss Shaw (played by Liev Schreiber) and Captain Ben Marco (played by Denzel Washington); later, Marco provides testimony to support the awarding of the Congressional Medal of Honor to Shaw for bravery in the Gulf War in commanding a unit that was "lost" but then found after a supposed battle with the Iraqis. Nevertheless, most of the film focuses on the presidential election of 2004, in which ambitious Senator Eleanor Shaw (played by Meryl Streep), the Shaw matriarch, is trying to promote the chances of her robotic son Raymond, now a member of Congress, to be selected as the running mate of favored presidential candidate Robert Arthur (played by Tom Stetchschulte).

With the brain implant experience causing odd nightmares, Marco conjectures that the life of Arthur's choice for vice president, Senator Thomas Jordan (played by Jon Voight), is in danger. But Marco's efforts to warn Jordan turn out to be in vain as the conspiracy scenario moves forward, with a larger cast of conspirators than Marco realizes. Although filmviewers may want to read the recently re-released 1959 novel by Richard Condon on which both films are based, the more recent film version presents a much more plausible villain--the way in which giant corporations control the lives of candidates as well as voters, even without brain implants. Those who may scoff at yet another cinematic conspiracy theory may want to compare the plot in The Manchurian Candidate with the Watergate break-in, the Reaganaut deal that delayed the release of American hostages in Iran until after the 1980 election, and the Florida felon purge before the 2000 election that disqualified thousands of non-felon African Americans.  MH

Amazon.com Music

The Manchurian Candidate
Richard Condon, Louis Menand

The Manchurian Candidate is a terrifying and suspenseful political thriller featuring Sergeant Raymond Shaw, ex-prisoner of war, Medal of Honor winner, American hero . . . and brainwashed assassin.

Panels on political films are scheduled at the annual convention of the American Political Science Association in Chicago, September 2-5. The Film & History League (www.filmandhistory.org) will feature several days of papers on the theme War in Film, Television, and History from November 11-14 at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. In the past, papers from both groups have appeared in the Working Paper Series of the Political Film Society.