The Manchurian Candidates: A Political Viewpoint


No spoilers ahead. In fact not even plots are discussed. Neither it’s a film review (though posted under the movie review category).

This piece of writing  would mean something to those who have seen these films.

Novel adaptations in Hollywood are quite common. So is a remake. There has always been an observational point of view ever since the birth of cinema that , Hollywood has always lipped America’s political interest through its show pieces which otherwise appear so plain and natural to a normal viewer. In fact there have been criticisms to an extent that Hollywood acts like a mouth piece for Pentagon.




In 1959 Richard Condon authored a political thriller ‘The Manchurian Candidate’ which has so far been adapted twice in celluloid so far. The first adaptation followed almost immediately after the novel’s release in 1962 directed by John Frankenheimer. This film was a cold-war political thriller in tonality and is considered now a classic. For nearly forty years there hasn’t been a remake of it. In 2004 came a reconstructed version of the same directed by Jonathan Demme. The two versions of the films have remarkable variations which unfold much more if read under the lens of American political propaganda.

The goal of propaganda is always entwined with the timeline of its release and the international political scenario of its era. The first version of The Manchurian Candidate released during the cold war era. American nationalists hated anything connected to communism, even remotely. The success of the novel could only be deciphered with the anti-communism driven plot. America as a nation has always the desperation to register its supremacy as the global power. The cold war in its core was nothing but the silent war between the two super powers of the twentieth century to claiming their global superiority.

The 60s version portrays Soviets capturing and hypnotizing a US platoon amid Korean War. The later has got it done by an US corporation. The structure of the film itself completely differs from each other and a heavy political undertone could be deciphered on the changes.


The Manchurian Candidates


The plot, though the same in both versions differ heavily in their narrative structure and character portrayals. In the latest version the backdrop is completely changed. The communists needn’t be portrayed as antagonists anymore. Hence this version shifts the backdrop to Kuwait. The protagonist character gets a phenomenal shift. If Sergeant Raymond Shaw played the central role in the earlier, it’s Major Marco in the later.

Post 9/11 we could see the desperateness of the US to paint a ‘Savior’ picture on an American soldier to win the trust of Americans. The opening scene in the latest version shows soldiers inside a wagon, but the former version show them in a place resembling a brothel with women around. There is a momentary reference about carefully designed Muslim-hatred that surfaced post 9/11, in the train sequence shown as a news item in a daily carried by a character, which couldn’t fit at all in the earlier film. There are plenty of such minute observations one might find if both the versions of the same film are watched back to back.

This perfectly exemplifies American exploitation of the cinema medium for deliberate disguise-propaganda of its nationalistic interests to the viewers.



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