Above is a clip from a very influential movie called The Manchurian Candidate. Released in 1962, it is centered around the Cold War, the different people involved, and the tactics used to try to win the war. In the clip above entitled “Mother’s Plot”, we see a woman, Eleanor Shaw, explain her plan to stage a media event that she predicts will rally “a nation of television viewers into hysteria” to her son, Raymond Shaw. The angles, props, lighting, and reversed gender roles in this scene make it very disturbing and give viewers the allusion that they are in the room, watching her deliver a powerful performance of the plan she believes will take her to the top, if her son executes it correctly. The scene also presents a contradicting view of a woman in a time when women were expected to be seen, not heard. The scene begins with Eleanor sitting in a chair, next to a distorted Queen of Diamonds playing card. This card is here to represent the image of herself that Eleanor has. She is the queen and deserves to be seen as a queen by everyone else, in this scene she is also shot from below, at a medium shot. This allows for the audience to place themselves in Raymond Shaw’s shoes. It is as if the viewers are in the room and she is speaking directly to them. As she continues to speak, she stands and the camera follows her, still filming her from below, adding to the stern and motherly tone she is speaking in. The lighting in this part of the scene is done purposely to represent the major theme of the Cold War, Democracy vs. Communism. The light shines on the right side of face, representing Democracy, while there is a dark shadow casted on the left side of her face, representing Communism. As the scene continues, Eleanor begins to walk toward Raymond, and the camera zooms out, finally showing Raymond’s face as he sits silently and listens to his mothers plan. The scene ends with Eleanor kissing Raymond, an act that would normally seem innocent, a mother kissing her son, but the camera angles give it a very uncomfortable and incestuous feel. The camera zooms in to a close-up of the two and creates a very intimate and at the same time inappropriate feel. The way the angles, props and lighting are used in this scene are meant to give a very daunting feel.
The Manchurian Candidate presents a woman in a position of power over a man, a role that seems out of place considering the times. The movie was released in 1962, two years before the Civil Rights Act was passed, a law preventing employers from discriminating against people because of their race or gender. Seeing a woman talk to a man, even though he is her son, like a child, is somewhat shocking. At the beginning of the scene Eleanor is giving Raymond commands. Telling him that he will take a gun and shoot the candidate at the exact moment she specifies. Another example of her talking down to him is when she gets closer to Raymond and makes him childishly repeat a quote back to her. Eleanor’s character as a strong woman who uses men to get what she wants was a different way to portray a woman and makes for a very interesting viewing experience. The Manchurian Candidate uses unique angles, lighting, props, and gender roles to make a movie beyond its time and create a timeless piece of cinema.
- “Mother’s Plot.” YouTube. YouTube, 23 Feb. 2016. Web. 25 Feb. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMzP5ZhgutQ>.
- Infoplease. Infoplease. Web. 25 Feb. 2016. <http://www.infoplease.com/spot/womenstimeline2.html>.
- The Manchurian Candidate. Dir. John Frankenheimer. Prod. John Frankenheimer and George Axelrod. By George Axelrod. Perf. Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, and Angela Lansbury. United Artists, 1962. Film.