2 Stars:  Disturbing

That a person can be brainwashed was shown by the experiments North Korea performed on prisoners of war during the Korean conflict.  Deprived of food and sleep, controlling every breath and hope, it was discovered that many of us could be broken and come under another’s control, forced to do and say things that are not of our own choosing.  This fact captured both the imagination and fear of the world, and inspired Richard Condon to write a novel in which a whole platoon of American soldiers are brainwashed in the Korean conflict and John Frankenheimer to put it on film.

            In Jonathan Demme’s remake, the setting has changed to the Gulf War, and the way the men are brainwashed now includes computerized implants imbedded into the brain and back.  This is necessary because we now know that the fears of being brainwashed that swept the world after the Korean conflict were unfounded.  A person cannot control another others once they are out from under that person’s direct control.  So in this film, the common abduction myth of imbedding implants has become the tool of greedy corporations and ambitious politicians.

            The main character is the wealthy son of two U.S. Senators, Raymond Shaw (Live Schrieber).  Having lost his father, Raymond rebels against his controlling and ambitious mother by enlisting in the service.  Sent to the Gulf War he receives a Congressional Medal of Honor for heroically saving his platoon when they are ambushed.  At least, that is what he and his fellow soldiers think they remember happening.

            Ben Marco (Denzel Washington) was the Captain of the group and is haunted by dreams of something very different: a mobile medical facility where he and his men are drugged, operated on and forced to murder two of their own men. 

            At first, Marco does not believe that his dreams are real.  But when others of his platoon begin sharing their similar dreams, it becomes clear that everything is not as it appears.

            The power of the film rests in two other fears besides that of mind control.  The first is our fear of multinational corporations who manipulate not only economies and governments, but also the minds of people.  The Manchurian corporation is an arms provider who is attempting to place into the U.S. Presidency a man under their control, the senator’s son Raymond Shaw.  As a war-decorated veteran with strong political ties, the political process is manipulated in such a way that he will come into office and they can control the nation through him.  This takes the fear of “special interest groups” to a whole new level.

            The second fear is that of a pathologically controlling mother.  Playing on the primal fear that mothers can “get inside our heads,” the film shows Raymond’s mother, Senator Eleanor Shaw (Meryl Streep) as cooperating with the Manchurian corporation and offering her son to them for mind control, not only so she can reach her political ambition, but also so she can “have her son back.”  This incestual power-grab is repulsive and strikes a discordant note within the film while at the same time strumming the deeper primal chords within us.

            Disturbing in both its manipulation of our fears and the manipulation it suggests could be possible in our world, “The Manchurian Candidate” is a psychological thriller that is hard to enjoy.



  1. The manipulation of our fears is similar to the suggested manipulation of our minds in this film.  How much do you believe subliminal manipulation is a part of our media?
  2. The fear that we could have a President who is under the control of “special interest” groups has caused reform in our campaign contribution process.  Do you believe there are other ways in which a politician can be under someone else’s control?
  3. Do you find yourself believing that there are officers of corporations who would do what the Manchurian officers do in this film, or do you believe most corporate officers are good people?
  4. What do you think caused Raymond Shaw to position himself in such a way that he and his mother are killed?  If he was not completely under the control of the implant, then why did he kill the only woman he ever loved, Jocelyn Jordon (Vera Farmiga)? 
Posted on June 1, 2011 and filed under 2 STARS, DISTURBING.