A Window into Life in the Suburbs

"Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these." Luke 12:27 (NIV)

Saturday, February 26, 2011

On Video: Manchurian Candidate (2004)

There seems to me to be in the psyche of every human being a strong desire to control his environment, no matter how impossible. As a parent I know all about that urge. There are days when I think it's so much easier to tie the kids up in their room than to deal with the unpredictability that they bring into our lives.

Every kind of totalitarian instinct, no matter how altruistic the intention, almost always leads to violence. Even if no one gets physically hurt, dictators tend to do violence to principles such as individual liberty and honesty. The twentieth century is testament of that. Under communism, fascism, nazism we have seen the horrors of totalitarianism.When men do not believe in God, then he must find others. Some take it upon themselves to be gods to "save the world", "to save their fellow men from themselves".

It's a narrative that has always interested me. The original brilliant Foundation series by Asimov sees Psychohistory as the benevolent answer to controlling human history and steering humanity along a certain path. George Orwell's 1984 and Ray Bradbury's Farenheit 451 are far less sanguine. We've also seen Star Wars, The Matrix, Lord of the Rings and Equilibrium which shows a world where men with good intentions can be corrupted. Religion has been used by better men and diabolical ones to control others. But what if religion is no longer going concern in a post-modern, secularized society? Where would men and women look to for guidance, security and a worldview?

Well, we look to science and technology to take control and manipulate the future. In many of these pre-dystopian narratives, science is a power that make things happen according to plan. The Manchurian Candidate isn't a science fiction dystopia as such but it does suggest that totalitarian instinct alive and well.

Anything by Denzel Washington is worth watching, in my opinion and this remake of the 1962 conspiracy thriller is no different. The villains have changed... it's no longer the communists who are calling the shots but a monstrous multinational corporation. The story moves fairly predictably but it's still gripping enough to hold one's attention from start to finish. Washington plays a veteran, Maj Marco, of Operation Desert Storm who has inexplicable dreams of events occurring during a skirmish in Kuwait where two members of his team suffered fatalities. In present day US, Marco is visited by an ex-member of his team who is also seeing dreams and that triggers a series of events which leads Marco to believe that he was brainwashed for some nefarious political purpose. Meanwhile, another team mate, Raymond Shaw, who is the son of an influential political family comes to national prominence as a vice-presidential candidate. They cross paths and soon powerful forces are at work to discredit Marco's sanity.
Meryl Streep plays Shaw's ambitious, manipulative mother, Eleanor. She calls herself "a true believer" in the future of America-- but is more a caricature of one. Her political tendencies are vague at best and the film doesn't really go into it. As the story progresses, it becomes obvious that Eleanor has a few secrets and tricks of her own. The husband thought that Streep's Eleanor reminded him of "Hilarious" Clinton... as he calls her. Interesting comparison.

At its core, the film is about an unholy conspiracy between big business and politics... always a dangerous combination even on a good day. But add science to the mix, it's a powder keg. At the end of the day, it is up to courageous, principled individuals who take matters into their own hands to stem the tide of unsavoury alliances.

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