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The 1962 version of “The Manchurian Candidate” is a typical Cold War suspenseful film twisted with sarcastic hints throughout the entire duration. Released during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the film was sure to resonate with the Cold War drama Americans were facing and deeply feared.
“The Manchurian Candidate” focuses in on the main character Raymond Shaw after he returns back home from the Korean War. With his return, Shaw is perceived by the Americans as a war hero even greeted with a large public welcoming set up by his mother in hopes to benefit his stepfather’s political career within the United States Senate. However, as the plot unfolds Shaw’s achievements come out to not be as true as society hoped from a wartime hero and to actually be the cover-ups of brainwashing experience done by China and the Soviet Union while he was captured with others during the Korean War. The audience gets to witness how other characters like Major Ben Marco deal with their recurring nightmares of what actually happened while captured, similar to the post-traumatic stress that many are faced with. Also, viewers get a look at Shaw’s actions as the result of a mental trigger that clicks in his brain when encountering a red queen within a playing deck of cards (the trigger used to get him to execute spy work).
Within the movie, the actors and actresses do a great job portraying the political commotion that was occurring within the 60’s. The psychological state of the individuals who return from war is well portrayed within the film. Scenes where those who wake up due to the reoccurring nightmare really execute the post-war stress many faced when coming back home. Also, the overall political tension of the time is strongly depicted. The tension between the two parties in the film shows a deeper look of what was actually going on inside the American borders as the preparation for the 1964 presidential election. The filming also compares rather realistically as it correlates back to JFK’s election in 1960. The Islen family, consisting of Raymond Shaw’s mother and stepfather, execute exquisitely the image that American culture feared in regards to communist’s medaling into American politics. Coming off as the family of a war hero and the ideal patriotic family, suddenly being wrapped into a political scheme was the power that many Americans feared during the 60s; mainly due to the fact that the country as a whole was dealing with trust issues. Even the actress who plays Jocelyn Jordan does a great job of depicting the female’s role of this time to support her partner. With such, Frank Sinatra who played Ben Marco realistically shows the pressure many Americans in a similar position were feeling when it came to protecting the country as a whole.
Raymond Shaw as well goes to show the biggest fear at the time which was that anyone could be a communist. After the brainwashing situation, all the other soldiers began to describe Shaw as the “the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life” when in reality he was the complete opposite. He was perceived to be so great by the American society when it turns out he was being used as a spy. The biggest concern during this era was who could you actually trust, and the movie does a great job of showing such.
Personally, I believe the film does a great job in regards to analyzing the nervous breakdown that the United States was undergoing due to the pressure they felt by the widespread growth of communism during the cold war era. While I do see great value in the plot I believe that the film made it seem too simple the way to overcome the issue that the Cold War brought. Having spies is not an ideal situation within any political system and a simple game of solitaire is an unrealistic way of defeating such. However, I do see value in the comedic relief that the movie could provide through the use of saying they were brainwashed. Ideally, brainwashing was a cultural fantasy in regards to how they could comfort themselves with the truth behind this pressing issue in their culture. Rather than looking more closely at communism, it was easy for an individual to just say those who believed in it were brainwashed.
The film itself I see as either a coping mechanism for American society or a springboard of how they can discuss the issues of espionage more without having to be pressed by the political agenda. The films plot provides a rather strong plot in regards to being an anticommunist vehicle for Americans as the ending strongly shows Shaw putting his foot down to communism. The ending also shows the defeat communism has on Shaw once again offering an anticommunist approach as viewers become deeply connected to the main character. Rather than making the communist movement a political issue that is somewhat controversial movies like this one are able to make it a dinner table conversation that families can feel more comfort discussing amongst one another.
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