The Manchurian Candidate, adapted from Richard Condon’s novel of the same title, was released in 1962, and directed by John Frankenheimer.
Brief Plot Summary
The central concept of the film is that the son of a prominent, right-wing political family has been brainwashed as an unwitting assassin for an international Communist conspiracy
The Manchurian Candidate was noted for its breakthrough in cinematography, as the scenes were shot in a creative manner that was new and different in that era. It also made use of different editing techniques to seamlessly piece the story together, along with the use of certain recurring Motifs to effectively deliver the story to the audience. This paper would examine how the groundbreaking use of cinematography, editing help to bring across the theme of surrealism, and delivers a thrilling effect while the motifs help bridge the Theme of The Manchurian Candidate with the use of visual elements.
The Manchurian Candidate made use of several different brilliant cinematography aspects to bring forward the theme of surrealism and thrill to the audience. According to the Dictionary, the term “surrealism” refers to “an avant-garde movement in art and literature that sought to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind, characterized by the evocative juxtaposition of incongruous images in order to include unconscious and dream elements.” This theme was highlighted in several scenes in the film.
Particularly in a scene where Major Marco was having a nightmare, the camera tracked from the end of Marco’s bedroom towards Marco, who was lying on the bed sleeping. The tracking shot ended with a close up of Marco’s face, with his brows furrowed as he began to experience his recurring nightmare. The close up shot of Marco’s troubled face was then superimposed onto his nightmare shot. From the tracking to close up shot, it creates a sense of mystery and suspense, which intrigues the audience and builds up the anticipation. After which it would lead up to the film’s most noted scene- the Ladies in Garden Club scene.
In this scene, the director made use of a 360 degrees panning shot to showcase three different points of view- the “Reality”, the “brainwashed white man’s imagination” and the “brainwashed black man’s imagination”. These three different points of view in a dream add up to one big surrealistic nightmare scene. It is also important to note that this scene was considered to be “notorious” (Chung, 2006, p. 129) during that era, for its unconventional use of camera work.
During and after the 1950s, there is an “increase in the number of dark, provocative and original films.” (Mann, 2008, p. 12) and The Manchurian Candidate was one of them. It was “stylistically ambitious” (Mann, 2008, p. 12) and can be considered a breakthrough in cinematography during that era.
This scene alone had to be shot 3 different times, as each individual point of view comprised of different elements and actors. The platoon was captured and brainwashed into thinking they were attending a ladies horticulture club meeting, when in fact they were present and sitting in a Communist meeting. The camera then does a 360 degrees slow panning shot from the lady speaking, Mrs. Whittaker, to everyone present in the scene, listening to the talk. However, as the camera makes a full round and returns to the start, gone was Mrs. Whittaker, and in her place stood an East Asian doctor giving the Russian and Chinese generals a speech about the brainwashed American soldiers.
This panning shot builds up suspense, as the camera slowly pans around the venue, showing that there were only ladies present. It delivered a shock to the audience, who expected to see Mrs. Whittaker after the camera makes a full round, to find out that the lady was gone and replaced by a man instead. This slow panning movement also gave the scene a dream-like quality, which is a characteristic...
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