Term Paper: Cold War Era Many Films

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[. . .] The Russia House is a contemporary film with the Cold War era as subject. The film, starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Sean Connery, is based on a novel by John le Carre. The film, released in 1990, is a more contemporary view of the Cold War topic than the others already discussed above.

Through characterization that accurately portrays the Russian characters, as well as authentic scenery, music and dialogue, the film focuses on some of the idiosyncrasies inherent in Russian attitudes and mannerisms. The fear involved in meetings between Russians and Westerners during the time portrayed is also depicted. An interesting feature of the film is that it focuses on the Russian rather than the American point-of-view. The dying days of the Cold War are depicted in adequate and serious terms. The audience's sympathy is focused on the civilians who were at the mercy of politicians from both sides of the fence. These politicians wish only to perpetuate the arms race at all costs, while no pity or sympathy exists for whoever suffers as a result. The film also depicts the chasm between the political world of the time and the civilians it was supposed to serve. Lies, manipulations and disinformation control the world, and very little can be known for sure. Changes in Russian policies leaves its people in uncertainty rather than relief, while war looms on a perpetual basis.

Further uncertainty ensues for the individual characters in the film when a manuscript supposedly containing Russian military secrets fall into the hands of the British intelligence. Nobody trusts anything or anyone. This appears to be a common theme in films depicting this era. The various possibilities regarding the authenticity of this manuscript proves this point.

Further intriguing the plot is the fact that the man to whom the manuscript is addressed, Barley Blair, played by Sean Connery, makes frequent visits to the Soviet Union. This stirs the paranoia inherent in the time further. Barley is at first also in the dark about what is happening.

Michelle Pfeiffer plays Katya, who was supposed to take the manuscript to Barley, instead hands it to a colleague. In this way it comes into the possession of the British authorities.

Dante, the author of the manuscript, wants Barley to publish it, but British and American authorities will not allow this. However, to find out if the manuscript is authentic, Barley is sent to Russia for a meeting with Katya and with Dante. This is a comment on the individual's helpless position in a world ruled by political powers beyond his or her control. Barley does not want to go to Russia.

Thus, in focusing on the plight of the individual, the film is character-centered to a greater degree than the mainstream spy thriller. Action in the form of interrogations for example become verbal matches of wits. Connery's character, Barley, may be seen as symbolic of Russia, who has gone badly awry. Thus, knowing he has nothing to lose, he answers and in turn questions his interrogators without a trace of fear. His character however develops in acquiring a new sense of meaning in two areas. In spying for his country he is allowed the chance to do something meaningful in a political sense. On the other hand, his meeting with Katya gives him new meaning in life as a result of romance. Katya's morality overshadows much of the charm that might be possible in her, but she is unable to sustain this for long in the face of Barley's gallantry. The two characters then serve symbolically as the individual desire for happiness in the face of political upheaval. The atmosphere of secrecy and upheaval force the two to keep their feelings hidden from each other even in the process of seduction.

Time and place thus play key roles in the film, affecting the events and characters to a greater degree than anything else. Because it is the Cold War era in Russia, Katya and Barley's romance is doomed. Because of the time and the place meaning is derived from making political changer rather than personal change. People are depersonalized pawns in a global political game. Still, the focus is very much on the less stern and more human aspect of people's experiences during this time. Elements of scene and style depicting this are for example the ethereal qualities of the gray Russian sky and the background of jazz music.

In terms of technology, the scientist Dante attempts to use the technology created by Russia against the country in order to save it and the rest of the world from self-destruction.

This is a comment on how technology can be used, even in a misguided sense, for good instead of for destruction.

North by Northwest

North by Northwest was released in 1959, and is thus older than the other films discussed above. It is a classic Alfred Hitchcock caper thriller. The film, like many of the others have the elements of pace and comedy inherent in the plot. Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint are in the starring roles as hero and heroine.

Like The Russia House, this film also focuses on the individual rather than the institutional and general problems of society. Hitchcock then uses the individual's plight to depict his larger themes of false pretenses and issues of survival in America of the 20th Century. The hero is a complacent man in the form of a successful advertising executive. He is made vulnerable, isolated and victimized by spies mistaking him for a political agent. He is framed at the UN and suspected of murder. This results in him being pursued across the U.S. with everybody, including spies, the police and the FBI on his trail. Finally taking another identity in the midst of these confrontations, the American finds his salvation in the ultimate American setting: Mount Rushmore's presidential faces. In this way the film then attempts to separate what is essentially good about America in the midst of all the corruption and lies. It appears that the message is that good can be found in the foundations that made the country.

Significant settings were used in the film. These include the United Nations Building and Grand Central Station in New York City, as well as Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. These appear to depict all that is worst about what American society has become, and all that is best about its ideals that are after all still alive.

The title of the film refers to the surrealistic search forced upon the hero as common man. The only solution lies in traveling north by Northwest (Airlines) to South Dakota and Mount Rushmore, where he finally finds peace.

The first part of the film depicts a man, like many other New York men, about his business of everyday work. He is in masterful control of his environment. This is badly shattered when he is abducted and his identity is mistaken. The only way out for him is to finally change who and what he is altogether. The Plaza Hotel, like Grant's character, depicts material success and luxury, apparently untouchable by crises and upheavals of a political kind.

Ironically, the main character, who is used to lying for a living, and proud of it, finds himself lied to at every turn. When crisis ensues, he is unable to convince any of the authorities of the truth. In the end his true identity is entirely engulfed by the lie. He is robbed of all that is familiar and comfortable. He is deserted by all who is supposed to help him. These include both his country's officials such as the United Nations (here used as a symbol of world order and Utopia) and his own mother. The only salvation then lies in the individual who must fight forces that appear far beyond his control.

The Manchurian Candidate

The Manchurian Candidate, released in 1962 is a Cold War thriller depicting dark topics such as brain-washing, conspiracy, the dangers of international Communism, McCarthyism, assassination, and political intrigue. The film depicts the early 1950s, a time during which right-wing McCarthyism reached its height. Strong patriotic feelings in the U.S. were accompanied by a tense paranoia regarding Communist schemes to take over the country.

The mood of the film, depicted in pseudo-documentary style, is dark and foreboding. Along with the themes of Communism and paranoia, the emerging role of television in shaping opinion is also addressed. The film anticipates the American obsession with conspiracy theories during the early 1960's. Again the death of President Kennedy plays a role in the film's withdrawal from movie theatres a year after its release.

Nonetheless, it is an important film of the time. The film begins with a scene in Korea, where an American infantry platoon is serving. During a patrol the soldiers are ambushed and taken to Manchuria to be captured. When the Sergeant returns from Korea it is as… [END OF PREVIEW]

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