So last night I took another trip down “film history” lane and watched a movie new to me but old to the world. It was Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation. I had only vaguely heard of it before and seen occasional parodical references to it in TV-shows like Spaced. It turns out to feature one hell of an intriguing premise:
“A paranoid and personally-secretive surveillance expert has a crisis of conscience when he suspects that a couple he is spying on will be murdered.”
I find it to be an interesting twist on the material, as most surveillance-centered movies tend make the main character the victim of an invasive conspiracy rather than the perpetrator. Gene Hackman’s character, Harry Caul, is an uncomfortable cog in a possibly malevolent machine. He has one very distinct achilles heel; he cares. In a world where both the bugging-equipment and it’s users exhibit the same cold moral vacuum, Harry is different. It makes him likeable to us, but also catalyses his own erratic behaviour and gradually consumes him over the course of the film.
A lot of movies dive into the subject of paranoia and attempt to place the audience into the characters shoes, but I can’t remember the last time I saw one as effective as this. As the plot thickened I found myself wishing that Harry would stop caring and just go home. I guess that means that I’d be a pushover in the same situation, but damn it his world becomes so scary! Because of Coppola’s strategic use of editing and camera placement, we find ourselves not knowing whether anything Harry suspects is fact or fantasy. Repetition plays a large thematic role in the film, and spreads of every corner of the production. Camera moves are repeated continuously in an untypical way until they produce a new meaning in your mind, very much mirroring the way Harry plays his recorded conversations over and over again until he experiences the same phenomena.
Very little, and one could argue nothing at all, came off as arbitrary in this film. It’s an example of very precise craftsmanship, and should be on every wannabe filmmaker’s “to watch” list. I’m certainly glad I saw it, and it has been stirring in my mind since last night. Did I understand what it all meant? No. Did I like it? Yes. Is it slow as fuck?
….yyyyeeaah! It’s a very stagnantly paced film, but not a stagnantly told one. The first hour may very well put you to sleep (as it did to a viewer beside me), but the second had me curling up my toes. There is one moment, very reminiscent of The Shining, that got to me in exactly the way Coppola must have intended. I was properly scared! If you stay with The Conversation till the end, you will be too.
– Rant Over!