gambitch - now available in blue Our constant efforts to reinvent ourselves reveal how much we fear our own images.
Wednesday, October 27, 2004
"Sergeant Shaw? Sergeant Raymond Shaw? Raymond Prentiss Shaw?"
I watched The Manchurian Candidate this evening, and I am generally glad I did. It was one of those few movies I positively wanted to watch and did manage to go about doing so. There have been many movies I wanted to watch that I never got around watching, for a host of reasons. This one was not one of them. It's not because I'm a fan of Denzel Washington or Meryl Streep (the truth is, I'm not). Rather, it is because this movie had a few elements that drew me to it, like presidential elections and conspiracy theories about corporate megamonsters.
It does help that I am told Washington is a good actor, which increases the watchability of this movie. Let that not be confused with the earlier statement about me not being a fan. I think being a fan requires me to be such a movie buff and a credible artistic critic, which I am not. But there's something about Black American actors that make them look more obviously good than their white counterparts. Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, James Earl Jones... There is a very well-defined air about them that seems to weigh the mood down in a very blunt, matte kind of way.
(As I type this I saw on TV this clip of a 14-year-old girl of Taiwanese-Paraguayan parentage. Frighteningly long hair and outstanding bustline even by adult standards. Scary, really. Do teenagers today all hit adolescence much earlier than they used to?)
Before I proceed, I should put out the standard spoiler alert, so here it is: SPOILER ALERT! Heh.
For a movie this long - it lasts a full couple of hours, and then some - it was generally a well-paced movie that didn't get too boring, the way something like Titanic allegedly was (I didn't watch it so I wouldn't know). The story moves straightforwardly enough with nothing particularly unexpected. That is, nothing particularly unexpected from the perspective of a sufficiently cynical Palast reader who bothers to get briefed on the synopsis. From that perspective this movie does not actually break too much new ground, beyond capsule-shaped chip implants and political manoeuvres in a jostle for leadership of post-terrorism America.
The characterizations are, however, interesting. I am intrigued by the personality of R.P. Shaw in particular. The supposed lead character played by Washington (Ben Marco) is less interesting, because the character is a textbook guy driven by a desire to know the truth, "a fine soldier" and "a good man" who is turned inside out by that which he seeks to know. Beyond that the character doesn't show very much and Washington's acting talent seems almost wasted. The impact of being taken out from active military duty seems way too small, so small I wasn't even led to suspect he felt more hurt than he cared to express.
Shaw was another matter. I suppose it's easy to say that when the character is the passive antagonist, the other main man of the movie. In our first sightings of Shaw in public we see him as this political smoothie who has his lines rehearsed and who is willing to work hand in glove with corporate interests who would like to do business with the White House (vague memories of Margaret Thatcher and that famous quote come to mind). He seems almost dismissive of Marco's attempts to verify just what happened that fateful night in Kuwait.
Yet the tensions within the character were already apparent when we saw him for the first time, ironically in a private context, watching Senator Tom Jordan on TV and supposedly preparing for his own speech (as his mother, played by Streep, says he is doing). Here was a man under his mother's thumb politically, who had his friends chosen and vetted by a woman who was herself hungry enough for power to ally herself with a massive corporate backer who has half the Senate in its pocket, but not enough to actually try for presidency or even vice-presidency herself (instead of propping her son for the role). Mrs Shaw (or should it really read Mdm Prentiss?) was so powerful she even broke up her son's relationship with Jordan's daughter years ago, a decision that triggered Shaw to join the army.
As the movie unfolds it is Shaw we grow to see more of. Where Marco is so predictably one-dimensional for what is supposed to be a protagonist, Shaw's inner contradictions slowly get the better of him when he too starts having doubts over what exactly happened. But Marco has it easier than Shaw - the sergeant, not the officer, is the one who won the medal for his supposed act of courage in saving the "Lost Patrol". The sergeant, not the officer, is the man propped up by an incredibly ambitious mother and massive financial and power brokers to take over America in a plot he knows nothing about. The sergeant, not the officer, is the man in the public eye, fighting in the election and put in a position where backing down involves a political price too huge to pay. There's a mountain of weight on this man's shoulders, a burden we increasingly realize he is incapable of dealing with - a fact that Shaw himself probably, in his own slow way, realizes too.
All this leads to a number of very interesting scenes. The conversation over what is supposed to be a last-minute lunch with Marco, another meeting with Marco on Election Day, and the Election Night assassination scene, when the roles are switched and it is Marco who is hypnotized into carrying out the bloody deed. Shaw averts what would be a horrifying murder of the president-elect, choosing instead to sacrifice himself - perhaps because he realizes he can take it no more and he needed to break free and exorcize the ghosts that enter his dreams.
A comment from Shaw somewhere in the movie struck me. His mother had cast him as a Prentiss, according to him, and not a Shaw. The man comes from a good lineage on both sides - his mother is daughter of Tyler Prentiss, a big man in America in his own time, and his father John Shaw was also an active politician remembered fondly by the party. Yet, because John Shaw was dead two decades ago from when the movie takes place, we know very little of the man. The younger Shaw's mother did drop a few hints that her husband "threw it all away" all those years ago. Could that have something to do with his incredibly early death (he was only in his 50s at most then)? Was it a case of political conscience, something which could have made John Shaw unsuitable for party politics and therefore warranting his elimination? And did Raymond Shaw inherit a little something from his dad that led to his willingness to become the sacrificial lamb in place of the president-elect? This is one of those unsolved mysteries the movie leaves behind.
Of course, that does not explain why he strangled Senator Jordan's daughter. Jordan himself had to be removed - Shaw's mother believed he knew way too much and was a threat. But his daughter saw the murder by accident. It was a bit difficult to imagine explicit instructions to kill her as well. So was Shaw conscious of the fact when he drowned her? Did he know what he was doing, even if he didn't quite know he was killing the senator? The evidence can point both ways, but it leaves some room for imagination.
The resolution of the movie is rather incomplete, and perhaps deliberate. The bad guys die - well, some of them. Shaw effectively committed suicide by spoiling his mother's plan. When he looked up towards where Marco was hiding, he had that sad look that said "please kill me and free me from all this". He died, haunted by a conscience he did not know had existed before. He took his mother down with him, but Manchurian Global survive it all at the end. Sure, one operative was framed for the job and another (who had a role in the Kuwait incident) was apparently arrested, but the wicked fugitive scientist remained at large and the rest of Manchurian Global was shocked, upset but unscathed. This was perhaps by way of telling us that they will remain and perhaps even come back.
As a whole the movie may seem a little fantastic for some, but there are people who believe that this is rather too real. As it happens, I came across an article here suggesting that there are lots of correspondences between the movie and real life. The article includes links describing this global megamonster called the Carlyle Group (which I have read about, notably in Palast) as well as that conspiracy-theory fan's favourite, the Illuminati (which I don't care too much of a jot about at present). There is also this other article about brainwashing, old CIA plots and a man called Frank Olson. Strangely enough the article has some rather bad things to say about Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. I don't like either man, so this article goes down fairly okay with me.
All in all, you can either watch The Manchurian Candidate as a stand-alone movie and not care about the issues it tries to touch and provoke, or you can watch it and try to fit it into a greater consciousness and perception of things that are happening in America (and perhaps globally). The movie is no documentary and does not pretend to be one, but if we buy the old phrase that art imitates life, this movie may well carry a couple of warnings about the way this world 'really' works. gambitch [
Monday, October 25, 2004
This one's for the Arsenal fans...
Glory glory Man United,
Glory glory Man United,
Glory glory Man United,
And the reds go marching on ON ON!
While I did not watch the match, I am very pleased that United crushed Arsenal 2-0 to snap their record-breaking streak at 49. Hopefully this will serve both as an excellent tonic for Sir Alex and the boys as well as the first domino to chip away at Arsenal's dream of a second straight Premiership trophy.
Undoubtedly I will take time to read the match report in the papers!
Meanwhile, I had a pretty good football outing myself. I think I am finding decent form as a goalkeeper. It's rather a shame, because it does mean I can't get involved with the outfield play quite as much, but finally finding a position where I don't have to run nearly quite as much and can concentrate on shouting at my teammates... Well, it's a swell role to fill.
Being goalkeeper requires swift reflexes, immense courage and the willingness to shout a lot. It probably requires other things, but I think these three are right up there on the list of most important attributes. What else can explain a stretch of the hand to deflect a goalbound shot onto the upright with minimal reaction time? (My hand hurt from it, by the way.) Or staying alive after blocking a shot straight on the sternum? (I thought I was winded for 15 full seconds, and passed the ball out to set up a goal right afterwards.) Or pulling the team back and giving some tight defending that saw the last match end 4-0? (Great goals from lightning raids, but I shouted the team back into defence right after the ball went in.)
Having said that, I'd much like to play upfront too if my stamina would allow me. But I think I had some really poor luck today, that and poor ball judgment that led me to fail in controlling two or three balls that just went past me. To be fair to all those people I play with, though, they're all very good players compared to me, and I'm happy just to be able to stop them.
It's a bit late, and I need sleep. But I'll sleep well tonight on the back of such a good result.