The next section of this paper is devoted to comparing Porfirio’s
guidelines for an existentialist hero in film noir and the characterization
of Raymond Shaw in The Manchurian Candidate.
The first category that Porfirio suggests is that of the “non-heroic
hero”. The non-heroic hero is “devoid of the moral framework necessary
to produce the traditional hero. He had been wrenched from familiar moorings”. Certainly, Raymond Shaw’s post-war condition finds
him wrenched from his familiar moorings. He is the pet of Dr. Yen Lo (Khigh
Dhiegh), who is a Pavlovian student who is keeping Raymond under hypnosis.
Through his signal, the queen of diamonds, Dr. Lo is able to feed instructions
to Raymond whenever he wishes. This places Raymond in many unfamiliar
situations, including one where an accidental mention of solitaire by
a bartender finds Raymond unconsciously following instructions to “drive
to Central Park and park [himself] in the lake”. At the same time, this
hypnotic control has left Raymond devoid of a “moral framework” as explained
before. Porfirio’s assessment of Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon
can also be used for Shaw: “He is what Albert Camus calls ‘a man without
a memory’, free of the burden of the past. He is capable of any action,
without regard to conventional morality, and thus is apparently as amoral
as his antagonists. […] The price he pays for his power is to be cut off
behind his own self-imposed masks, in an isolation that no criminal, in
a community of crime, has to face”. Raymond’s memories have been erased so he is free
from the burden of the past in which he strangled Ed Mavole and shot Bobby
Lembeck while under hypnotic suggestion. His actions can certainly be
compared to the immorality of his antagonists, but the main difference
is that his antagonists are amoral out of their own free will. The price
that Raymond pays is that he is cut off from the community; he shoots
his fiancée Jocie while under hypnotic suggestion which cuts his ties
to anyone except his antagonists. Porfirio emphasized the vulnerability
and a sense of loss in a character; the viewer of The Manchurian Candidate
only has to look at Laurence Harvey’s eyes to see that vulnerability expressed.
As Roger Ebert points out, “so many different people have used so many
different strategies on Harvey's overtaxed brain that he is almost literally
a zombie, unable to know what to believe, incapable of telling who can
be trusted”. Raymond also moves “in and out of shadows so dark
as at times to obscure him completely”. The best example of this that The Manchurian Candidate
provides is the flashback sequence in which a veiled Shaw recounts his
mother’s meddling in his courtship of Jocie Jordan. As Shaw continues
to drink and continues his story, the shadows envelop his body until his
head is placed in the darkness and only a disembodied head rests in the
Porfirio’s second motif deals with “alienation and loneliness”,
in which “man stands alone, alienated from any social or intellectual
order, and is therefore totally self-dependent”. Before his first hypnotic episode, Shaw admits that
“everyone in the unit” hated him. Even before his actions separate him
from the social order, his attitude has already placed him among the ranks
of “nobody’s friend”. Even attempts by Al Melvin (James Edwards) and Bennett
Marco to rectify Raymond’s situation are met by his coarse attitude, one
that reflects that he does not “care what people thought of [him]. [He]
and loneliness continues as any emotional attachment to Jocie is cut off
twice. The first time his mother composes a letter to Jocie on his behalf,
and the second time he slays her to protect his identity as the killer
of her father. Thus, Raymond again stands alone as an alienated man because
of his actions against the social community and a lonely man as the killer
of his emotional attachment, Jocie Jordan.
Porfirio’s third category is that of “existential choice”, in which
there is a “heavy emphasis on man’s freedom, the meaningless of existence
[and] man as his own arbiter, [one who] literally creates good and evil”. The movie’s narrative shifts after the hypnosis of
the American soldiers so that Bennett Marco can uncover clues that will
“free” Raymond Shaw from the “links” that are oppressing him. In the end,
it is Raymond’s burning need to be free of his mother that turns the gun’s
sight onto her and not the President-elect (as had been planned). Bennett
helps Raymond break his “links” and “bust up” the hypnotic chains, but
he also makes Raymond come to grips with his multiple assassinations.
After Raymond’s stand to free himself from his mother’s hold, he realizes
the meaningless of his own life and the turn it will certainly take if
the police apprehend him. He kills himself after realizing that meaninglessness.
Since the first hypnotic session, Raymond had created his own universe
of good and evil. Now freed from that universe, he kills himself to finally
be completely free.
Porfirio’s fourth heading is “man under sentence of death”, which
I do not believe The Manchurian Candidate utilizes. The use of
hypnosis as justification has not allowed the usual existential motif
of “every acts and attitude of man to be considered a choice” to be realized.
Instead, Raymond’s act are not chosen, but part of a growing number of
personal wishes from his “operators”. In addition, Raymond does not talk
of his understanding of “imminent death”. Unlike an Al Roberts character,
Raymond Shaw does not know death is facing him until he shoots himself
in the last five minutes of the movie. It is important to include “man
under a sentence of death” in discussion because it highlights that The
Manchurian Candidate was able to associate most, but not all, of the
existential motifs in its picture.
The fifth motif is that of “meaninglessness, purposelessness, and
the absurd”. Existentialism emphasizes “individual consciousness and its
key denial of any sort of cosmic design or moral purpose. For Camus it
involved a recognition of the ‘benign indifference’ of the world and ultimately
a reclamation of a measure of dignity through the sheer persistence of
living on despite life’s absurdity”. Certainly Raymond is trying to reclaim his dignity
when he guns down his mother who has been responsible for suppressing
his nature even before she learned how to operate him hypnotically with
the queen of diamonds. The Manchurian Candidate also stresses the
“blind chance” of picking Raymond Shaw out of all the soldiers. Dr. Lo’s
intention was not to single out the son of his “American operator” (i.e.
Ms. Iselin); it just happened that way (as it tends to do in many film
Porfirio’s sixth idea is that of “chaos, violence and paranoia”.
The Manchurian Candidate follows the guide of Welles in employing
deep focus, which “permitted the cinema more nearly to approximate the
‘real’ world by allowing the spectator to pick and choose from a wealth
of stimuli. Deep focus helped to create a cinematic world which in its
own way embodies those very qualities – decadence, corpulence, viscosity
– that Sartre found so disgusting in the physical world”. One example of deep focus is found when Mrs. Iselin
instructs Raymond to shoot the President. In the foreground and to the
right is Raymond, in the middle ground and to the left is Ms. Iselin,
and in the background center is the discarded queen of diamonds costume
that Jocie had worn to the ball. The scene introduces Ms. Iselin’s incestuous
desire for Raymond and also reminds the viewer of Jocie’s recent slaying.
It all depends on which stimuli the audience chooses to look at.
The last motif of the Porfirio existentialist hero is that of “sanctuary,
ritual and order”. The hero attempts “to create some order out of chaos,
to make some sense of his world. [This is done] with an equal sense of
urgency by the amnesiac or the innocent victim. The attempt is seldom
totally successful. Such ceremonies as smoking or drinking take on sacramental
overtones”. Raymond Shaw is without a physical location in which
he can shield himself from the chaos that has enveloped him. However,
the movie does point out this characteristic in Bennett. While the soldiers
were under hypnosis, there were given “yak dung” and told it was a cigarette.
His inability to light a cigarette for himself is a conditioned response
to that taste of “yak dung”. Thus, it is Rosie (Janet Leigh) who courts
him by simply lighting a cigarette for him and handing it to him. She
attempts to restore order to the chaos that infects Bennett’s dreams of
the Korean War. In a way, Bennett becomes an existentialist hero himself,
although he is not the main protagonist.
The Manchurian Candidate incorporates most of the conventions
of film noir. Besides its existentialist hero, it incorporates a femme
fatale into its narrative structure. The femme fatale turns
out to be Ms. Iselin (Angela Lansbury), whose work as a Russian double
agent and “American operator” of Raymond the assassin causes Raymond’s
downfall. The movie also employs a non-linear style to its narrative,
as clues about the hypnosis sessions are uncovered through the dreams
of Bennett Marco and Al Melvin and the flashback sequences of Raymond
Shaw. The last narrative technique that The Manchurian Candidate
employs that is similar to noir is that of “free will versus fate”. Raymond’s
free will is taken away after hypnotic therapy suggests he kill Ed, Bobby,
Bobo, and the Jordans. However, with the help of Bennett Marco, he is
able to reclaim his free will and shoot his mother and step-father as
an act of defiance of their will (they wished for him to shoot the president).
to its narrative similarities to noir, The Manchurian Candidate
also employs several stylistic techniques. It uses deep focus for several
important scenes, stressing the “excessiveness” of the moment. In addition to deep focus, there are several choker
shots and scenes of confined framing. Director John Frankenheimer was
very fascinated with the placement of characters in relation to each other.
Often he would employ deep focus and a confined framing to accentuate
an individual or something the viewer should be taking notice of. For
instance, before the American soldiers are hijacked, their traitorous
guide appears screen left and in the foreground. The soldiers move from
the background to the middle ground and “choke” his frame by occupying
the middle and left thirds of the screen. This shot foreshadows his later
encounter with Bennett in which the same close-up is used before Bennett
fights with the guide-turned-Shaw’s houseboy.
The Manchurian Candidate has to be considered a film noir based
on its narrative and stylistic techniques. In addition, a closer examination
of the Raymond Shaw (Lawrence Harvey) character using Robert Porfirio’s
article “No Way Out” demonstrates that Raymond is an existentialist hero,
whose place in the noir existentialist hero world is somewhere between
Sam Spade and Al Roberts. The Manchurian Candidate may have come
three years after the formal closing of the “film noir period”, but that
should not prevent its inclusion into the canon of films regularly referred
to as “the black film”.