Monday, April 27, 2015

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Manchurian Candidate (1962) - Suspense is Fuel for Thrillers

[Quick Summary: After the Korean War, an intelligence officer is plagued by nightmares that involve a fellow soldier, a Medal of Honor winner.]

So what makes a thriller a THRILLER?

All definitions agree that it must have suspense:
Suspense (n.): 1) a state or condition of mental uncertainty or excitement, as in awaiting a decision or outcome, usually accompanied by a degree of apprehension or anxiety; 2) a state of mental indecision.
But what does it look like in practice?

I think the original Manchurian Candidate (1962) is still the gold standard.*

Maj. Marco has nightmares about the war and fellow officer Raymond Shaw.  It is quite a roller coaster ride to find out why.

I was surprised, however, that the best suspense was between Shaw and his mother.

The uncertainty and apprehension is palpable:

ex. "The limo starts up and pulls away from the crowd.

RAYMOND: Who's kidding who, Mother? Johnny's up for re-election in November. You've got it all figured out, haven't you? Johnny Iselin's boy, Medal of Honor winner. That should get you another fifty thousand votes. [He stands up to her.]

MRS. ISELIN: Raymond, I'm your mother. How can you talk to me this way? You know I want nothing for myself, you know that my entire life is devoted to helping you... [Guilt.]

RAYMOND: Mother. [He protests. Is he weakening?]

MRS. ISELIN: ...and to helping Johnny...

RAYMOND: Mother. Mother. [Uh-oh. Indecision. He's weakening.]

Raymond lowers his head and puts his hands over his ears.

MRS. ISELIN: ...My boys. My two little boys... [Duty, loyalty, guilt.]

RAYMOND: Stop it. Stop it. [He feels selfish.]

MRS. ISELIN: ...That is all I have... [She's both manipulative & vulnerable.]

Raymond seems to melt under his mother's barrage of bullshit. [Is he doomed?!!]"

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Thrills come from the anxiety/apprehension/indecision that convinces us the story could go either way.

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
by George Axelrod
Based on the novel by Richard Condon

* It is 50+ years old and is STILL on every top 10 list.  And has Angela Lansbury. And Frank Sinatra.

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