I am in no way implying ‘The Godfather’ and ‘The Godfather II’ to be any lesser. They are maybe even more. But they aren’t quite like ‘The Conversation’. This 1974 psychological-mystery thriller film was written, directed and produced by Francis Ford Coppola. The film stars Gene Hackman as the taciturn and reserved Harry Caul, a surveillance expert who gets involved in a moral dilemma owing to occupational hazards. The supporting cast includes names like James Cazale, Harrison Ford, Cindy Williams and Robert Duvall. It is absolutely preposterous how Coppola framed a film around a single eight word sentence. The whole movie hinges on a particular piece of conversation his assignments have. And how Harry juxtaposes the phrases by re-playing it over and over again. Every time he plays them, he has a new interpretation and further descends into the moral quandary to be professional, or be a human being.
Coppola is very meticulous with details of the sets and the characters to present to us an idea of how Harry actually is. Starting with his reaction and baffling look, when a neighbor wishes him on his birthday. Next is the house door, which is shown to have not one, not two, but three locks. Even when he opens the locks with his own keys, there stimulates an alarm, indicating an intrusion in his kingdom of secrecy. How indignant and defensive he becomes when he sees a bottle of champagne at his door-step, and discovering he doesn’t have the “only key”, immediately indulging in an harangue with his society manager. How he then proceeds to tell her he has nothing personal except for “his keys.” How he then directs her to send his mail to a post office with a combination on it.
He also doesn’t work in a “building”. He works in a dilapidated abandoned building behind the railway tracks. How he ditches a probable lover, when she asks a couple of mundane questions. This is just about two minutes of film that I described! When I said meticulous, I meant METICULOUS! This presents to us how much Harry is cognizant about the preservation of his privacy. More than anything else in the world, he wishes to remain obscure to others, and intends to take any given measure to achieve it. His metric of endeavors might delude some into thinking he is some kind of a psychotic person, with many citing the last scene of the film as its confirmation. But what they don’t understand, is the reaction is corollary to the transgression of his privacy, which he safeguarded more than his life. Considering how much he values it, such notions should be immediately dismissed. Another distinct trait of the character is how perennially he dons a rain-coat, irrespective of whether its raining or not. This is something that is then explained to us through a dream, or rather a nightmare, he is having through flashbacks.
One of the other themes in the film is the resemblance of its premise to the Watergate Scandal, which forced the then President Richard Nixon to resign from office. The circumstances and the traits of the farce have been incorporated in the movie. Its political roots and relevance was seen a fitting parody of the Government’s failed attempts at covering-up the issue, a facsimile of Harry not being proficient at this particular job. The tapping of the phones, bugging of the rival contemporaries’ offices and the abuse of power by the incompetent administration all make up for a familiar tone in the film. The oppression of the weaker facets present in the society by using a superlative position in the chain is something that Martin Stentt and the Director do in the film. The movie is also about Harry’s detachment from the physical world, and his state of mind, on the periphery of madness.