YO! Youth Outlook, Commentary, Published Sep. 1, 2004
Manchurian Candidate, the antidote to Fahrenheit 911
I cannot watch cable news late at night anymore. What happens is that after two hours of explosions, wife murderers, impending doom and commercials telling me to buy gold – my brain explodes and starts to seep out of my ears. I see too much and realize that the wife murderers are the ones selling gold to send explosives to insurgents in black pajamas. I become inconsolably paranoid and begin jotting things down that invariably make no sense in the morning.
This is not drugs. This is watching our American apocalypse parade with both eyes open and not enough information. Curiously, this is also how you feel watching The Manchurian Candidate.
It is, at once, the most brilliant and embarrassingly bad movie I have ever seen. It has plot holes you could drive a hummer through, Denzel’s performance is the same lip-biting, finger-wagging, shaking-with-anger skit you’ve seen in Training Day and Hurricane, the dialogue is laughable and the story has all the unpredictable twists and turns of a yardstick – really, nothing about it works. That is, except the thing that works so well it’s scary. The Manchurian Candidate is the antidote to Fahrenheit 911. It says to us, “Don’t worry, America. All of your fears and suspicions can be discarded as a crappy movie.”
In the movie, Denzel Washington plays a Gulf War vet who has bad dreams about a battle he was in the Gulf War. In modern day Washington DC, he is contacted by one of the former members of his unit who is having the same bad dreams. Then Denzel goes crazy and starts to suspect that he and the other members of his unit were brainwashed, including the present candidate for vice-president. It turns out his suspicions are true and the candidate is a psycho being mind-controlled by a powerful American corporation.
I saw this movie the day after Terry Nichols was sentenced to 61 consecutive life terms for his role in the Oklahoma City bombing. He and Timothy McVeigh met while serving in the Gulf War. John Muhammed, the DC sniper, was also a Gulf War vet. Now we have proof that the desert can breed monsters. And the first Gulf War lasted for, like, a three day weekend and we got a handful of mass murderers. It’ll be fun to see what kind of mayhem the veterans of this war can come up with.
I spent the first half of the movie uncomfortably shifting in my seat, wishing I had put my $10.25 to better use, like lining a bird cage. And at a certain point, I realized the movie was so bad because it was supposed to be. It raises a lot of the same fears most of us have about the war in Iraq: the (real or manufactured) threat of terrorism, corporate control and the shredding of the bill of rights. But the movie is so bad, it put all my fears to rest.
If the story of a Gulf War vet brainwashed by corporate America on the presidential ticket were in a well-made movie, our fears would be confirmed. That creeping, unsettling Bill and Ted strange-things-are-afoot-at-the-circle-K feeling would be kindled. Instead, we can walk away and say, “That was a load of ridiculous nonsense that didn’t hold together, just like what I read in the paper every morning.”
Ultimately, the movie is less about corporate control and more about how frightening power-hungry women are. Meryl Streep plays the candidate’s overbearing mother, a senator who wants the best for her son, so she nurtures his unhealthy dependence on her, fights to get him on the presidential ticket and tries to make out with him. The character she’s playing, though, is not fictional at all. It’s Hilary Clinton.
The only thing scarier than Hilary Clinton being your mom and trying to make out with you is a Wyclef soundtrack, which this movie also has. In fact, he did a remake of “Fortunate Son” for the opening credits. And now I will direct my comments to Mr. Wyclef: The former members of Creedence are too old or dead to beat your ass, so I’ll do it for them. Don’t let me catch you at the grocery store, Wyclef. You’ve killed a classic.
Wyclef’s laughable attempts at playing the guitar combined with the constant noise of familiar-sounding news clips to make the film’s score. Reports of terror alerts, war, bombings and some political rhetoric are in the background for the whole movie, giving it an authentic feel while reducing the significance of the unnerving news that we hear every day to noise. Oh – and Al Franken is the reporter for the film’s fictional news network and I don’t know what that means.
There is no surprise ending, no exciting climax and no answered questions. I walked out of the theater anxious, confused and paranoid – the same way I feel after watching the news. And then I reminded myself it was just a movie, just bad entertainment. This is a realization I am now able to extend to all news accounts.
So I feel much better and I’ve stopped being paranoid. We are NOT breeding monsters in the desert. Our president is NOT a deranged robot gangster. Big business has NOT hijacked our country and American democracy is NOT just as laughable a farce as Laurel and Hardy in German. The Democrats are NOT going to run Hilary in four years and she will NOT launch wars or halt them depending on where her moon is in the sky.
I feel much better. Now where’s Wyclef?