The Manchurian Candidate

Not really recommended. I was mildly and happily surprised that this movie about mind control and politics starring the mighty Denzel Washington was not another thinly veiled political agitprop. The filmmakers did a great job of displaying a U.S. Presidential election without showing any parties and without making the good guys or bad guys obviously either of the parties. In fact, they set up characters as almost combinations of both parties. The guy who is running for president has an agenda called “compassionate vigilance” much akin to Bush’s “compassionate conservatism,” but this same character also brags and crows on about how “I’ve faced the enemy on the battlefield,” just like a John Kerry. But I must say, the candidate, Raymond Shaw, played well by Liev Shrieber, and his controlling Lady Macbeth mother, played by Meryl Streep, are wittingly or unwittingly, dramatized to be more like Democrats or liberals. The dirty rotten, scheming, controlling socialist mother is unavoidably a replicant of Hillary Clinton, down to the hairdo and look. I heard they tried to recut the movie so she wouldn’t be as much like her. Also, Shaw’s unnamed party talks about easily winning the East Coast and California, but not holding onto the Southern states, obvious strengths and weaknesses of the Dems. Interestingly, Mother Hillary Streep is concerned all about medical care and says a line to an enemy trying to stop her, “I will bury you,” that I just could not help but connect with the Hillary ideological bedfellow Nikita Kruschev’s famous line to Kennedy that “we will bury you!” This movie did an interesting take on the Cold War scenario. Rather than the typical clichéd controlling fascist or Big Brother government being the villain, in this movie, it is the evil multinational corporations that transcend politics altogether. I see some good and some bad in this. I think that there is plenty of danger and heartless evil intent behind many corporations concerned with profit unhindered by morality. This is undeniably real. And this is certainly a more realistic concern for our world than the fantastic fiction of an empire-building America. Couple problems: 1) It may encourage a more neo-Marxist distortion of social theory that reduces all power issues to class warfare and exploitation by capitalist corporations. I only say this, not because I believe the movie intends such imbalanced perspective but because the current milieu in which we now find ourselves has made a certain fashion of Marxist envy and resentiment, as the French would say, and Nietzsche would elucidate and Michael Moore would mangle and bastardize. That irrational hatred for anyone better off than you are. 2) I think the movie’s plot suffers because of this. For the whole point of putting the Global Conglomerate’s man into office by assassinating the newly elected president, is not really spelled out beyond having a man in their control who “runs the country.” Yeah, but why? What do they really want to do? What’s the real goal of having their man in there? They never really say, which makes the story a bit unsatisfying. Also, I see a moral failing with the film. At the end, when the bad guys are caught and Denzel assassinates the Vice President and his mother instead, we are all supposed to say it’s okay cause the mother was evil, and the good guy was brainwashed. But the problem is that the VP gives Denzel a strong look at the end that tells him and us that he does remember, that there is a small part of him deep down that they can’t control, which hints at Denzel to kill them, not the innocent president. But see, if there is that ultimate untouchable part of our will that cannot be controlled, then Denzel did not kill under mind control but under his free will to do so. Which makes him a murderer, and of a good guy!! After all, the VP shows he is not a total puppet and foils the big bad corporation’s goal. Also, the Feds go back into security cameras and retouch Denzel’s pictures to look like another assassin from out of the country. They do this to save Denzel from paying for his own crime. Again, it is supposed to be okay cause he was manipulated by the One World Company. But consider the moral issues involved in this. If it’s okay for the government to lie and break the law in order to get the bad guys, then what is stop them from breaking the law when they think you and I are guilty? This is exactly the kind of thing that critics of the Patriot Act are wringing their hands about. If we allow the government to suspend civil liberties at any time, even to catch the bad guys, then how can we stop them when they suspend our civil liberties when we are not criminals? Power without moral restrictions always leads to more power and injustice and tyranny. And that’s not a movie, folks. That’s reality.