Is Paul Ryan the new MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE?
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A buff, young Congressman with a peninsular hairline unexpectedly earns his party’s nomination for Vice President, but he’s really just a puppet of global corporate forces who want to install him in the White House so he’ll implement their nefarious agenda. No, it’s not THE PAUL RYAN STORY—I’m talking about Jonathan Demme’s eerily prescient 2004 remake of THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, airing on Sundance Channel tonight at 9P.
The parallels to Paul Ryan aren’t MANCHURIAN’s only resonances in 2012. With its story of a mentally unstable whistle-blower trying to warn Americans about a war hero who’s become a traitorous sleeper—and who’s on the verge of being a heartbeat away from the Presidency—it’s hard not to notice the similarities to the Emmy-winning drama HOMELAND. But while Damian Lewis’ ex-Middle East POW Nicholas Brody is manipulated by foreign terrorists, the ultimate villains in MANCHURIAN come from within our own country.
That’s also a difference that sets the remake apart from director John Frankenheimer’s 1962 original, which came out in the midst of the Cold War and cast the Communists as the bad guys seeking to destabilize the U.S. government. The idea that evil has already infiltrated our system—embodied by Rep. Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber) and his mom, Eleanor (Meryl Streep), a Machiavellian Senator who proves you can’t spell smother without mother—makes Demme’s version even more insidiously terrifying.
In a commendable example of race-blind casting, Denzel Washington assumes Frank Sinatra’s role as Maj. Bennett Marco (the character’s name wasn’t even changed), a veteran of the first Gulf War who served alongside Rep. Shaw in Kuwait and begins to have flashbacks to mind-control experiments that implanted memories of his comrade’s alleged battlefield heroics. Shaw’s being propped up not just by his creepily incestuous Mommie Fearest but her No. 1 campaign contributors—the Manchurian Global corporation.
Among their moneymaking schemes is the creation of private armies to relieve U.S. forces coming home from deployment in the Middle East—shades of Halliburton, the company once run by Dick Cheney, who was the sitting Vice President at the time of the MANCHURIAN remake’s release. Ironically, the film came out only a few weeks before the Democrats nominated their own veteran whose wartime heroics came under fire—remember John “Swift Boat” Kerry?—to oppose Bush/Cheney’s reelection.
No political parties are named in the film to protect the not-so-innocent. But it seems clear by a discussion of the electoral map (in which the Shaws’ party is strong in the Northeast and California but weak in the South) and the description of a rival Vice-Presidential contender played by Jon Voight (ironically, a well-known real-life Republican) as being attractive to traditionally liberal African-Americans, women and young voters that the Shaws are hawkish Democrats seeking to unseat the Republican incumbents.
Eight years later, the political polarities have been reversed, and it’s the Republicans who are seeking to upset the Democratic administration by placing a robotic Representative on the ticket. I’m not saying Paul Ryan was brainwashed by the Masters of War to scare us into building up the military so contractors can profiteer from a pricey intervention to eliminate the latest would-be nuclear boogeyman (in this case, Iran). But shouldn’t somebody peek underneath his widow’s peak to check for an implanted computer chip? You know, just to be on the safe side?
THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE is part of Sundance Channel’s SCARY POLITICS. Watch films as scary as the issues every Tuesday at 9P.