The Parallax View Film
Nothing, And Yet Everything To See
According to Wikipedia (Yes f-ing Wikipedia), the term Parallax means “A displacement or difference in the apparent position of an object viewed along two different lines of sight, and is measured by the angle or semi-angle of inclination between those two lines.” Now although this may appear like a highly technical term when presenting it within the framework of a political assassination, then it only makes sense to introduce a multi-dimensional viewpoint as opposed to looking at what was presented from what is perceived as something that is purely objective.
The Post Kennedy Era
Upon release, The Parallax View was not well received. In fact, it was considered a very polarizing film in the year it was released. It’s an understandable side-effect to see a film that can be now hailed as a masterpiece of a psychological thriller. But back then, the idea of utter uncertainty that conspiracies surrounding distrust of governments, political assassinations, and the psychological conditioning of society itself seemed like a bombastically absurd concept to embrace. But then again, it could be equally argued that it was the perfect time considering that 1974 was only two years following the start of the Watergate scandal. In addition to that, the Kennedy Assassination was far from being anything but a closed matter given that multitude of conspiracies floating around its true significance, and let’s not get started with MLK and Malcolm X’s assassinations.
It could be argued that The Parallax View, and even the Loren Singer novel from which it is adapted from is a film meant to peddle a multitude of conspiracy theories. But, if anything could be further from the truth, then it is that there is no real sense of truth concerning the anxiety-ridden tone that defines the film’s atmosphere for both the audience and its journalist protagonist Joe Grady (Warren Beatty) who merely ventures further and further into a dark mystery with little to no certitude. The spark for this investigation comes just moments after being told by a fellow journalist/old flame Lee Carter (Paula Prentiss) that most of the people present in an assassination three years prior have either died or pretty much fallen off the face of the earth. Moments after dismissing her claims with calm reassurances, we are then presented with a quick cut to a mortuary where her body is laid out. Within moments of a dark-suited Joe entering the frame, it’s clear that all prior dismal of the matter has been completely reverted into finding who are the people responsible.
The People Responsible
Although The Parallax View is a reference to the corporate entity of the same name within the film, which is comprised of a training program for individuals with anti-social character traits (perfect assassin material), the film still presents an air of mystery. This very sensation continues to elude and forever remind Joe and the audience of just how little control and clarity he has in solving what is beyond anyone’s control in understanding the unseen forces within our everyday lives.
The assassination that sets off the story and paranoid mystery of the film is that of an independent political candidate named Charles Carroll (William Joyce) who jokingly says he’s too independent for his own good. This attempt at humor is then met with a shower of bullets from a supposed assassin dressed as a waiter, who then falls to his death off the Seattle Washington Space Needle. But the opening makes it clear that the man being pursued was merely a decoy and the real killers were able to escape and their target was eliminated. Not much is said or known about the politics surrounding the deceased Charles Carroll outside of his staunchly professed independence. Hardly any political policies are discussed within The Parallax View or any of the other candidates present within the narrative of the film. But then again, to call The Parallax View political is very different from labeling it as a political thriller. Regardless of the political leanings, the candidates carry, the fact that they were killed before they were able to take office provides a clear idea of the forces behind the Parallax Corporation, as well as the committee that overrules these assassinations.
When dealing with a political thriller embodying the conspiratorial atmosphere that reflected the inherent uncertainty that defined the values of a post-Kennedy assassination America, then it only grants those who hold power a deeper air of haunting mystery. That’s the feeling the committee emulates in a film like The Parallax View. The members of this committee are old white bureaucrats whose faces are barely shown, and the spaces of their eyes are showcased as voids as dark as the background that surrounds a majority of the scene with the exception of the wall they sit before as they declare the political assassinations committed as nothing more than the work of deeply disturbed loners. Nothing more is said, and the names of these men are never given. Gordon Willis’s incredible cinematography perfectly captures the ambiguity and the inherent darkness surrounding the essence that these unknown figures constitute for both the audience and the protagonist Joe Grady.
What To Make Of The Parallax View
As stated, the term Parallax refers to looking at things from a multitude of viewpoints, and that’s probably what makes this film not only a perfect thriller but a perfect warning. The timing of its release works given the utter uncertainty many American’s no doubt felt upon the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the array of scandals that followed, hence creating even more chaotic uncertainty in what is a nation that claims to be about having a particular certitude towards freedom. But that’s not how life works. In fact, how life works can itself take numerous approaches, especially when a select view controls how people see the scope of an event. Both the classic brainwashing montage and the death of Joe Grady at the hands of a shadow lit assassin perfectly sum up this very notion just moments after yet another political candidate, whose politics are never truly made clear is mysteriously killed, and no doubt because he didn’t fit the agenda of the forces that would unhesitatingly decide what is truth and what is false.
“The people will believe what the media tells them they believe.”
Oh Orwell, you really hit the nail on the head.
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Andres Benatar is thepyrrhic.com resident film expert. You can hear him on the 'Cinema 237' podcast - A podcast for cinephiles.
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