August 16, 2004
SIBL featured in 'Manchurian Candidate'
Saw the update of The Manchurian Candidate over the weekend. The most notable aspect for me was the use of NYPL's Science Industry and Business Library (SIBL) as a location. Quite appropriate for the film's aesthetic, as that library is quite sleek and high-tech. At one point Denzel Washington, who plays Major Ben Marco, needs a place to hide out and do research. He gets a visitor's pass made (his photo taken and everything) - in order to borrow a micro-tape recorder to listen to some tapes he's found. He also looks up news items using microfilm and Google. We don't see him consulting a librarian for assistance (beyond getting his visitor's pass, which probably wasn't done by a librarian anyway). He does get criticized later for producing material that's supposed to prove the existence of sinister big business/government conspiracy - because he got it from the Internet. So that's at least a nod in the right direction of rigorous evaluation of one's sources, especially online material.
[Note - potential spoilers follow.]
If I'm devoting my response to the film to the brief scenes set in the library, it's because the film itself is otherwise quite disappointing. I'm not categorically against remakes; changes had to be made in order to make it work in the present day. But there's nothing new about ties between big business and politicians; what's terrifying are the power players who are behind the scenes, who aren't the elected officials, who aren't accountable to constituents. This was at the heart of Angela Lansbury's character in the original. Meryl Streep's version of the character, as a senator in her own right, who's already in the pocket of Manchurian Global (now "Manchuria" is the multinational company, the stand-in for Halliburton, as opposed to the threat of Communist control by China), seems more fantastically monstrous, which just doesn't work. Also, the change of the mental trigger, applicable now to both Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber) and Ben Marco (Denzel Washington), is both silly and visually less compelling. We go from the visual impact of the game of solitaire as the trigger device, the connection between the image of the Queen of Diamonds and terrifying mother-figure Angela Lansbury, to a particular recitation of the brainwashed victim's name - the mental change for the Shaw or Marco is shown by the world sudden seemingly overbright to them. The use of the card game as the device had to change, had to be updated, but the new solution seems obvious and clumsy for what's supposed to be the latest developments in brainwashing. These aren't the only problems, just some of the big ones. It's a shame - I really wanted to like this.