The Parallax View
As with a number of more self-evident candidates, The Parallax View was inspired by the spate of assassinations of prominent political figures during the 1960s. A particular spur was the 1968 shooting of Robert Kennedy. Brother John’s murder was a decade old when the film entered production and the web of conspiratorial theorising regarding that case was just as complex then as it is now, only a little fresher. Director Alan J Pakula, star Warren Beatty and writers Lorenzo Semple Jr. and David Giler did not adopt the tack of a “straight” telling (seen with the 1973 JFK movie Executive Action) or a thinly veiled fictionalisation (1979’s Winter Kills). Rather, they drew together common threads from the brothers’ deaths. Their jumping off point was the patsy hypothesis relating to the cases’ lone gunmen and the plot-thickening statistics of the number of mysterious and sudden deaths that occurred amongst witnesses to the JFK assassination (an aspect also highlighted in Executive Action). Stir that in with the filmmakers’’ disgust over the events of Watergate, constantly in the news during the production, and you have a hope-abandoned picture of a country gone to ruin. The result is one of the bleakest and best ‘70s paranoia movies.
Alan J Pakula: It suggested that man is doomed.
Pakula’s above comment was in response to the feelings of despair and hopelessness the Watergate hearings elicited. Peter Biskind devotes several pages of STAR, his Warren Beatty biography, to the production and release of The Parallax View, understandably concentrating on the Beatty factor. Beatty was always politically minded, and prior to making the film had spent time out from acting in order to devote himself to campaigning for George McGovern’s Democratic Party presidential nomination (McGovern didn’t get it). Five years earlier he had pulled for RFK in Oregon although, as Biskind tells it, he was never close to the Kennedy inner circle. So it was inevitable that he would bring to bear his political acumen in the film arena.
To an extent, this had already been seen with Bonnie & Clyde, but that effect was more of a counter-culture, zeitgeist way than anything approaching a polemic. Soon after Parallax, the long-in-development Shampoo would cement his credentials as a political filmmaker and, over the next couple of decades, he would helm several politically charged pictures. He was equally adept at a historical document (Reds) as a biting satire (Bulworth). Pakula had directed a sharp post-noir (neo-noir) detective picture, Klute, a few years earlier, infused with a sense of paranoia that made The Parallax View a natural next step (and from there onto All the President’s Men; unfortunately, post-70s, Pakula’s star would never again shine so brightly).
The script, credited to Lorenzo Semple Jr and David Giler, was based on Loren Singer’s novel. Giler is best known as one of the producers of the Alien franchise, while Semple, like Pakula, made his biggest Hollywood splash during the 1970s. He graduated from television where, to contrast with the serious-minded burden of conspiracy-making, he was script editor on Batman. Prior to Parallax he penned Papillon, and went on to further highs (Three Days of the Condor) and lows (the 1976 King Kong remake, a Golden Razzie nomination for his Sheena screenplay). One issue Biskind highlights is that no one thought the script for Parallax was ready. This didn’t bother Pakula, who enjoyed the challenge of finding solutions in the editing suite (he put together the brainwashing sequence over several months, and the craftsmanship there is plain to see), but Beatty prized the opposite approach. But, with filming taking place during one of Hollywood’s occasional writers’ strikers, it complicated matters. Beatty reportedly brought in Robert Towne to do additional redrafting, although Towne states that he did nothing during the strike (well, you wouldn’t broadcast it, would you?)
The result was, when less-than-rapturous reviews came in, there was at least an available excuse (“We weren’t ready”). In truth, there was no need to be defensive (it’s a high point in the careers of all the major players, even if they fail to acknowledge it), but Parallax didn’t do very well at the box office either. It was engulfed by Paramount’s other big film that summer, Chinatown, which was released only a couple of weeks later. Beatty was put out that Robert Evans, a sometime buddy with a production deal at the studio, appeared to have sequestered Paramount’s publicity machine entirely for the Jack Nicholson-starrer. One can’t put Parallax’s downbeat attitude down to its failure, certainly; this was the decade where heroes didn’t win (at least pre-Spielberg and Lucas). But maybe it’s appropriate that a film about an individual trying and failing to discover and expose the truth should be ignored by the cinema-going masses. It focuses on marginalised viewpoints, so its marginalisation was perhaps inevitable (by the time of JFK, such theorising has entered the mainstream).
Senator Carroll: Independence Day is very meaningful for me because sometimes I’ve been called too independent for my own good.
The picture opens with the assassination of Senator Carroll (Bill Joyce), a presidential candidate who, in the words of TV reporter Lee Carter (Paul Prentiss) is “so independent we don’t know which party he belongs to”. An armed waiter (Chuck Waters) is identified as the killer but plunges to his death from the Seattle Space Needle, where the event is being held. A congressional committee subsequently finds that he (Thomas Richard Linder) acted alone, that there is “no evidence of any wider conspiracy no evidence whatsoever”, adding that they hope this will “put an end to the kind of irresponsible and exploitative speculation conducted by the press”.
We cut to three years later as Lee, in a state of high anxiety, visits newspaper reporter Joseph Frady (Beatty). Frady was at the Needle that day, but was refused entry. She is convinced her life is in danger, as six of the eighteen witnesses have subsequently met with accidents (“Maybe we all saw something up there”). Frady pooh-poohs her concerns, and we learn that they were once intimate. She mentions that another attendee, Austin Tucker (William Daniels), also harbours suspicions, which have led him to the town of Salmontail. When Lee shows up dead, apparently from a drug overdose at the wheel of her car (“Face it, some people want to die”), Frady resolves to investigate her claims.
Frady: Every time you turned around some nut was knocking off one of the best men in the country.
The premise, then, skews closely to the RFK assassination in terms of setting. Albeit, the Seattle Space Needle makes for a much more elaborate location than a hotel kitchen (the ultra-modern architecture on display lends a heightened sense of place and time; the brainwashing techniques may be little more than refinement of those in The Ipcress File, but the environment is grasping for a post-Moon Landings technological age). Joseph Green has an excellent article considering the RFK connections in the The Parallax View here. But Pakula and his writers also take in the JFK assassination’s disappearing witnesses (as popularised by Jim Marrs). The committee is a thinly veiled allusion to the Warren Commission and its closed shop approach to its findings (there is an announcement, but it’s not open for discussion). Frady reflects the scepticism of the greater populace, combined with weariness over the whole affair. Why can’t Lee just put it to bed? His comments indicate that he has been through this all before with her, and even at one point thought there might be something in it (Lee says, “You mean that you no longer believe that there was another assassin involved in shooting Carroll?”)
Frady has been established as a hot-headed investigative reporter in the previous scene, happy to confront corrupt cops (“You’re not only dumb, you’re dirty”). His editor Bill Rentils (Hume Cronyn) urges him to “Curb your talent for creative irresponsibility”. But he uses the kind of reductive logic beloved of conspiracy denouncers, noting that all their deaths can be explained. His is the approach of the today’s press, where fringe viewpoints are either ignored or openly mocked. It is easier to remain in blissful ignorance, even if something does not sit right. As Lee says, “You mean if you don’t see it, it’s not there”. Complacency, a state of denial or ridicule are more persuasive responses.
So, in set up this appears to be familiar material; the intrepid reporter goes all out to bring down the dirty machinations of those in power, exposing corruption in high places. And Frady embarking on a journey of discovery, looks like the ideal guy to do that. The character even plays on Beatty’s liberal image and his Lothario status (he has a girl in his room when Lee arrives). But where The Parallax View skews from the expected path of the conspiracy thriller is that it has no interest in showing us the “whys”. Rather, it focuses in on the apparatus that enables these murders to occur.
The Parallax Corporation suggests nefarious operations that have their roots in much-discussed (and written about) MK ULTRA mind-control programmes, and how it is that the lone gunmen perpetrators of the real-world events are just patsies (as Lee Harvey Oswald claimed) or even oblivious to the events themselves (Sirhan Sirhan). Such ideas have taken on new cachet of late, as some “Truthers” point fingers at the spate of homegrown US terrorist incidents. These are claimed to be false flag operations, although their purpose is distinct from the preventive measures that dictate political assassinations. Now, the brainwashed subjects are enlisted to further an agenda bent on ensuring ever greater curtailing of civil liberties. Another way in which The Parallax View’s distances itself from more typical conspiracy narratives is its intimation that the tendrils of ultimate control extend from the corporate world, rather than the bowels of government.
Pakula’s intentionally oblique storytelling invites a number of possible takes on the material, but one aspect of note is that the assassinations bookending the movie feature candidates from different parties. We learn little of what Senator Hammond (Jim Davis) stands for, except that, from his pre-recorded tape, he favours indistinct politician sound bites. But Carroll is announced, like RFK, as someone who is too independent, too uncontrollable, for his own good. So, feeding into the idea that it is not really the elected representatives who wield power but the money men behind them (who never change, no matter which party is nominally in charge), anyone rocking the boat with ideas that may affect their profits is liable to an untimely demise. This is the shadow government. Some have read the distinction between the candidates as an indication that the Parallax Corporation is little more than a mercenary operation, selling to the highest bidder. I don’t think this is the intention; it is an extra-governmental apparatus that tidies up those who stray off-message.
Frady: Well, there is a natural bureaucratic tendency to cover up mistakes, but beyond that I’ve got no reason to think any government agency was in on it. Or if they were, that they knew they were.
The overt corporatisation of governmental and military functions (Dick Cheney’s Haliburton, Blackwater) have come sharply into focus over the past decade, particularly in respect of Iraq. As a result, Pakula’s film seems gloomily prescient. It’s one thing to topple a corrupt government, but get beyond that and you must wrestle with the edifice of capitalism itself. In the film, Frady tiptoes around the fringes of government involvement but suggests it is not central (“If you want to use the FBI or CIA you don’t have to infiltrate the whole agency to do it”). Such a take can be found in the 9/11 conspiracy arena to some extent, as a defence against the idea that the truth would surely have come out if so many people were involved (and this in turn can be traced back to JFK theorising).
Indeed, one of the neat tricks Pakula and co pull is to invite us to retrospectively question everything we have seen (not that the compositions and framing don’t continually instruct us to be wary). Who is pulling the strings, and how far does their influence stretch? The first thing Frady does after Lee’s death is meet with a former FBI agent, played by Kenneth Mars (“not even an agent, an ex-agent”). This should be a warning sign in itself, as nobody ever really leaves the bureau. They meet on a miniature railway (amusingly conspicuous), and the discussion in long shot instantly suggest a tone of surveillance. We wonder that Frady is so confident his source can be trusted, particularly one in the business of providing fake IDs. When Rikells later dies of an induced heart attack, we recall the former agent informing Frady of a pill that can cause a pulmonary embolism. And it seems curious that he provides Frady with exactly the cover identity necessary to pose as a Parallax Corporation candidate. He says he will make him a “weeny-wagger” (the line “Besides, you look a little bit like a flasher” probably perversely appealed to Beatty). Then again, it should be noted that it does seem remarkably convenient that Frady should want a cover identity as a “hostile misfit” for his trip to Salmontail. He had no foreknowledge that this would fit with Parallax and, whilst an undercover status makes sense for his investigation, it is fortuitously specific.
The Salmontail scenes have crowd-pleasing air about them, and there is a reasonable line of argument that Frady’s proficiency here is designed to wrong-foot the audience into thinking he will also meet with such success down the line (in fact, there is no luck of the amateur; something that is made into a key plot point in the following year’s Three Days of the Condor). Frady has the unruly mop of hair and dress sense of one standing apart from the suits and squares. This is fuel to establishing a dashing hero who has the rug thoroughly pulled from under him; he is arrogant enough to think that he can take on a system vaster and more powerful.
But, even granting this section the benefit of the doubt (and to be fair, it’s an immensely enjoyable run of action), it puts in place a slightly erratic characterisation for the reporter. Perhaps it’s just his talent for creative responsibility, but he lacks any subtlety. There’s no guardedness to his inquiries of Sheriff Wicker (surely just common-sense in a small town where everyone knows everyone) and with his keen nose, he can’t even smell something a bit odd? However one looks at it, the dramatics appear to be subject to the expediencies of the plot; Frady’s quite the action guy; he can match Deputy Red (Earl Hindman) at fisticuffs (Beatty’s delivery of “No, I’m a girl” in response to Red questioning his manliness is wonderfully deadpan), he’s such a good fly fisherman he can whip his hook into Wicker’s face, and he drives the sheriff’s car like a Hollywood stuntman (funny, that). But then Pakula seems to catch himself and has Frady plunge said vehicle through the front windows of a supermarket, out-of-control. Frady is luckily to escape into the back of a waiting truck. From here on in, he will be on a back foot.
If you’re one of those SPECIAL people with BRAINS not just education who is not LIVING UP to your POTENTIAL through no fault of your own you can CHANGE YOUR LUCK.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines “parallax” as:
the effect whereby the position or direction of an object appears to differ when viewed from different positions, e.g. through the viewfinder and the lens of a camera
As the definition suggests, the term is generally applied to optical instruments (and most commonly referenced in astronomy); change in viewpoint occurs due to the movement of the observer. In terms of the film then, we can see the connotation as one of perspective; perspective on the scene of a crime with the investigator attempting to piece together the puzzle and, conversely, perspective on the crime in which the investigator is to serve as an unwitting component. Here, even the viewer is not granted the omniscience to perceive the whole; insufficient points are collected through the viewfinder. In such terms, the name of the corporation might be considered a little on the nose. In spite of our theorising we never have a full picture of its objects and motivations and so the name becomes a statement of intent; they announce that they are the only ones with complete lines of sight.
Those employed by Parallax (certainly at the level of Linder or Frady) only ever have a narrow perspective on why they are enlisted. This is most likely already distorted by their being the “types” demanded by Parallax. It isn’t really very important whether the psychological tests shown in the film have any coherence; what counts is that they carry the illusion of same for the viewer. Accordingly, we perceive the intelligence questionnaire as we do all such surveys, and wonder regarding our own aptitude. It includes statements both recognisable and dislocated, including (1) I am a healthy person, (23) A rainstorm terrifies me, (58) Sometimes strange men follow me, and (96) I know who is responsible for my problems.
When Frady visits Professor Schwarzkopf (Anthony Zerbe), a behavioural psychologist who is studying a chimp playing Pong (!), the latter expresses the view that he is “not sure whoever made this knew what they were after”. He moots that it is designed to pick out anger, repression, and frustration and admits that it may be able to define homicidal tendencies; he also considers it immensely sophisticated. Although we never see the results, Schwarzkopf resolves to test it on a patient Ernie, who “hacked up his great aunt and killed two ticket takers at the auction”.
What is unclear is whether the theorised emotional states are required in order to be “parallaxed” or if anyone can be manipulated/conditioned. Frady may be able to give a fairly good approximation of an angry, disturbed individual but he his only clear useable trait is obsessiveness; his dogged determination. His more paranoiac tendencies are a direct result of his situation rather than his disposition (he is confidence itself when facing down corrupt cops early on).
The three-and-a-half-minute film-within-a-film screened for Frady at the Parallax Corporation is a bravura piece of work, a mesmerising juxtaposition of words, images and sound (Michael Small’s score as a whole is suitably sinister; during this sequence it ranges from luxuriant harmony to propulsive menace). It is rightly influential, and is homaged in David Fincher’s rather shaggy-eared The Game. The associations of words initially match the succession of stills on screen, running through signifiers such Love, Mother, Father, Me, Home, Country, God, Enemy and Happiness. As the tone of the music changes, so the images and titles collide positive and negative connections. Alienation becomes the defining factor, from family (Father becomes a punisher/predator, Mother becomes uncaring or sexualised) to Country (images of the Klan and Hitler) to Me (Lee Harvey Oswald). In turn this gives way to mastery, as defined by the images of the gun and Marvel’s Thor (take note, Chris Hemsworth). One slightly wonders that even a self-respecting sociopath wouldn’t be roused from their susceptible state with “Oh look, it’s Thor!”, as it breaks the cascade in both its colourfulness and comic strip vibrancy; alternatively, one might argue that is the point); the final card is Happiness, at which point the subject is presumably supremely bendable.
It isn’t made clear why Frady must keep his fingers on the box “at all times” during the test. It has been suggested that physiological responses are being measured, or that his fingerprints are being taken for his later stitch up. I like the idea that there is no reason at all for it; he complies because he has been told it is important that he does so.
Throughout, Pakula confers on Parallax the behavioural approaches of the health and brain care professions. We see this in the bedside manner of Frady’s handler Jack Younger (Walter McGinn). McGinn speaks in soft, assuring tones. He is keen to suggest intimacy with Frady (“I’ve tried to be a friend haven’t I”). One is reminded of the friendly, empathic manner police employ with interviewees in order to extract a confession. He informs Frady that, “Your aggressiveness makes you potentially invaluable”, but there’s no suggestion that Frady is to take part in an assassination attempt. The closest we get is “In a risky situation, I believe you would go right down the line. You’re invaluable, Richard” yet this comes across more as a positive affirmation, instilling a sense of loyalty and self-worth, than an invitation to murder. Frady later tells Rintels “Whoever’s behind this is in the business of recruiting assassins” but we see no evidence of this. Rather, the assassins are long-since already recruited. It’s the patsies who are being sought out (it is unclear whether the brainwashing includes unknowingly pulling a gun, as with the waiter in the opening, or if the subject is ready, but I tend to the former).
Austin Tucker: Fella, you don’t know what this story means.
Pakula stages his set pieces with deceptively unhurried accomplishment. Sure, he provides a de rigueur car chase. But elsewhere he doesn’t feel the need to push our buttons in obvious ways because he has quietly established an uneasy tone from the off. Reviews of the time unflatteringly compared Pakula’s style to Hitchcock’s (kind of missing the point) so it’s interesting that he should find use for both surprise and suspense, which Hitch famously compared and contrasted. Hitchock favoured the latter, regarding it as more sustained and thus more effective (although he qualified this by allowing surprise if it is utilised for a twist). It’s an attractive argument, but any rule is made to be broken. As Pakula shows, it should be tempered by whatever is most appropriate to the scene in question. Would the scene have been more effective if we had known about the bomb on the yacht in advance? I don’t think so, as it would distract from an already peculiar and off-centre scene (does Tucker know more than he is saying and, if so, why doesn’t he say it; do he and his assistant, with whom he shares a loving smile, mean harm on Frady or is the reporter just paranoid about their furtive whispers?) And, when the blast comes, it announces that nowhere is safe. Frady needs to keep his head down.
In contrast, the plane sequence is exactly what Hitch was talking about when he said it was always better if the audience knows there is a bomb about to go off. But Pakula doesn’t push it. He doesn’t show Frady panicking, he doesn’t show us a ticking countdown clock, and he doesn’t apply a tension-building score (there is no music in the scene). It’s almost anti-suspenseful in traditional terms, but it is hugely effective. The modern viewer may be most taken by Frady’s ability to board a plane and only then have to pay for a ticket. That aside, it is his inventiveness that is most arresting. His approach is one of taking the course least likely to provoke an upheaval (he scrubs out THERE IS A BOMB IN THIS PLANE from the bathroom mirror because any common or garden passenger discovering it would scream the plane down; instead he secrets a message in the catering trolley, which finds its way to the pilot). I should also mention Pakula’s charming on-a-budget plane explosion; the camera is fixed on the security checkpoint, which Frady fails to pass through, and then camera shake and sound effects are employed to illustrate the bomb going off.
For the final set piece, the assassination of Senator Hammond at the rehearsal for a political rally, Pakula has another intention again. Ostensibly this is another suspense sequence; can Frady prevent the murder? But Pakula shoots it to suggest confusion. He spends time establishing the elements; the school band setting up in the auditorium, the tuba player who doesn’t seem au fait with his instrument (so may be a Parallax man, especially since he later marks out Frady; “I see him”), the senator who rides in on his buggy and vaguely thanks his volunteers while a pre-recorded speech filled with banal platitudes fogs as background noise. Up in the fathers, Frady sees the Parallax men he has followed (they wear security badges). He notices a positioned rifle (with no one by it). But, when a shot rings out, there is no line of connection to a perpetrator. The resulting panic is cut against the slain Senator’s buggy trailing out of control through rows of chairs, shot with almost comical detachment. If this were Hitchcock or De Palma, pains would be taken to choreograph the action and its participants. But Frady experiences events as if through a shroud, unable to make out the details. As such, it is understandable that some have concluded he is the shooter (he doesn’t see the shooter, because he is the shooter; he has no memory of what he has done). Which makes Pakula’s achievement all the more estimable as this is the conclusion the official verdict bestows on Lee Harvey Oswald and Sirhan Sirhan (who at very least could be placed at the scene) and which the public, with fractured information, is expected to believe.
The final moments for Frady are especially effective and might even claim to sum up the mood of late ‘60s and early ‘70s Hollywood, where the heroes don’t win. Frady has hidden in the rafters for a time, but decides to attempt an exit. He sees a light at the end of the passage and makes a run for it, but a silhouette looms in the doorway. Frady halts. A gunshot rings out.
One of the defining influences on The Parallax View is undoubtedly Gordon Willis’s cinematography. Willis lensed Pakula’s entire paranoia trilogy, and reunited with him for another paranoid, if more traditional, thriller (Presumed Innocent) in 1990. He is most renowned for his work on The Godfathers and collaboration with Woody Allen from the mid-70s to the mid-80s (which comprises the director’s most visually defined work), but his efforts with Pakula should come a close third. Willis favoured shooting with available light and referred to his approach as one of “visual relativity’, allowing for the contrasts between light and dark in film.
The interiors in The Parallax View are often very dark, to the extent that one of the hotel room scenes between Beatty and McGinn disappointed Pakula; he did not feel Beatty’s performance was appropriately on display. There is no affectation to the daylight scenes either; this is a stark, unadorned world. Willis favours low angles, and his use of long shots, with characters in the distance and foregrounded objects obscuring a full view (the miniature railway meet) or isolated (the yacht at sea), adds a feeling of being observed by persons unknown. Characters appear alone and exposed in any space, and Willis’ compositions are often deceptively simple. When Frady is searching the sheriff’s house a long shot allows us to see Deputy Red enter unnoticed. Neither character is aware of the other for what seems like minutes, until the telephone rings, Red answers it, and Frady is alerted to his presence. He uses distancing in other ways too; we see Lee’s body in the morgue, and the camera pulls back to the corridor outside as a coroner gives his opinion. It is only after the medical staff have left that we see Frady walk into frame, previously out of sight. It forms a contemplative punch line, as if to say, “I told you so”. At other times the pervading dark forces are directly manifested. The commission gives its verdict surrounded by darkness, but its members are no beacons of light. We see Rintels in his office, at the other end of a darkened newspaper floor and we wonder who may be observing him from this vantage point.
Frady: Can’t help it.
Rintels: I know.
Pakula surrounds Beatty with a raft of strong performers. They all contribute seamlessly to the mood of the piece, rather than calling attention to themselves. Hume Cronyn is most recognisable to a certain generation as one of Cocoon’s old timers, and his newspaper editor may be The Parallax View’s most recognisable stock type; the barracking superior who ultimately means well. Paula Prentiss had found fame as a star of romantic comedies in the ’60s; the following decade saw her appear in a string of contrastingly dramatic roles. Prentiss is required to inform us of how to assess the film’s threat; we have already seen that Lee, not Frady, is correct in her assumption that there is a conspiracy (we know that there is a second shooter) and her paranoid fragility is utterly believable.
William Daniels is another actor as adept at drama as comedy. Indeed, he played up the laughs as gun-happy family man Wynn Quantrill in psychedelic conspiracy satire The President’s Analyst seven years earlier (another film that shows the corporations ultimately calling the shots, but with a much more irreverent attitude). Here, his tired and remote Austin Tucker (“All I want is to stay out of it”) provides only fragments of information but he leaves an indelible impression. Anthony Zerbe, a fine actor more usually consigned to forgettable TV parts, is great in his one-scene nice guy shrink. Best of all is Walter McGinn, creepy and persuasive as Frady’s handler. McGinn appeared in another conspiracy thriller, Three Days of the Condor, the following year. He died in 1977, aged only forty.
It is reasonable to assume that Frady was under the watchful eye of Parallax from the moment Lee came to see him, just in case. His meeting with the ex-FBI guy either sent them warning signs purely because he was still being watched, or because ex-FBI guy himself has links to Parallax (even if this is merely by virtue of a contact of a contact chain that Frady hypothesises to Rintel). It seems most likely Parallax had no plans for Frady other than to dispose of him; Sheriff Wicker certainly appears intent on killing him, and blowing him up with Jack Austin Tucker’s boat would have been another chance (as with his FBI guy meet, the low key long shots lend a sense of covert observation; we wonder too, how did the news of his presence there – “Three perish in boating accident” – get back to Rintels?)
So Parallax knows what Frady looks like. They’ve scoped out their man already. When Jack Younger (Walter McGinn) approaches him, they know he’s the same guy who visited Salmontail, talked to Lee before she died and met with a (possibly ex-) FBI guy. Frady thinks he’s being crafty but he’s getting in further and further in over his head. So no, I don’t think Parallax becomes suspicious of Frady when Younger confronts him about his fake identity; they’ve known all along.
This leads to the question of whether the induction film exerts a hypnotic influence over Frady. Nothing that follows overtly suggests so (although there is some discussion over meaning of the climactic sequence) but, if he has not been conditioned, Parallax must rely on Frady making some very specific choices out of a whole stream of possibilities. Any divergence from their prescribed path could limit the success of their operations. It seems plain unlikely that such a rigorous organisation would leave anything to chance.
When Frady emerges from the screening, he catches sight of Bill McKinney’s assassin almost immediately. Frady follows him to the airport and the plane where McKinney has checked in his baggage/bomb. There is a cut to McKinney looking down at the plane after Frady has boarded; the implication is that Parallax is fully aware of Frady’s actions. So what was the intended outcome here? It is possible that what we see is what we get. Frady boards the plane, alerts the crew and saves everyone aboard. In doing so he screws up Parallax’s plans. As a result, they send Younger round to initiate the job that will rid of them of the troublesome reporter. The alternative is, Parallax intended Frady to see McKinney, expected him to follow the assassin, and everything that transpires is a test.
Was the attempt on Senator Gillingham’s life a genuine operation? Or did they want Gillingham (Robert Lieb) to be aware that someone had initiated a failed assassination attempt? Was this a veiled threat rather than an actual attempted murder? Perhaps the explosion we “see” was a controlled detonation after everyone had disembarked, since Parallax didn’t prime the device (that seems to be pushing it). Was this in fact all about testing whether Frady’s programming has taken hold (programming designed to reinforce his natural obsessiveness in following this case to its end)? If he does not prevent the bomb going off, well Parallax has one dead Senator and a patsy in the passenger manifest. If Frady raised the alarm by more conspicuous means, perhaps suspicion would instead have fallen on him. Or perhaps he would have led the authorities to Parallax. There is also the common-sense question of why Frady would endanger himself by boarding the plane if he thought he might get blown up; surely contacting airport security would have been a much sensible solution? It suggests some form of overriding conditioning. Again, during the climax, if Frady had taken a different course, such as making a scene, the Senator might have been saved. But on both occasions, he remains covert; this suggests he is unconsciously a dupe and that he can be relied on not to upset the apple cart.
Frady: Hey, what the fuck does my height have to do with anything?
Maybe this conditioning is at work again when Younger visits Frady and questions him regarding his true identity (or maybe it just kicks when he is performing specific tasks or is in a specific environment). Frady transitions into a very good performance of the man in the ID the ex-FBI guy gave him (“I’m no sex offender” he spits, before suggesting that something was put into his beer to make him takes his clothes off). It’s almost too good for a humble reporter (to be fair, he’s also pretty convincing during their first encounter, when he gets angry with his stove). Part of me thinks this may be Beatty the actor giving too convincing a turn as Frady the actor. Alternatively, perhaps we are supposed to be aware of him giving too studied a performance, hitting the beats of his profile too precisely, as that is how Younger is reading it. The scene is as ambiguous as Willis’ lighting is murky.
So Frady is directed to meet another operative for his first job, a security detail. But, on recognising that he is the same deputy he had a run-in with in Salmontail, he tricks Red into flying off to Hawaii. As with the assassin, Frady is very lucky to see him at such an opportune moment; if they had met face-to-face, Frady’s cover would be blown. It had to be planned that way. The whole intention is for Frady return to Parallax in order to (very conveniently, again just at the right time; the third time now that such a convenient sighting has occurred in relation to Parallax operatives) catch sight of our friendly assassin again. Thus, his conditioning to uncover the truth at all costs kicks in again. He follows the assassin straight into the lion’s den, where all has been arranged for Frady to take the blame. Even with such a take, there are more than enough variables to account for; without conditioning, I don’t see how the Parallax plan could hope to succeed. (Alternatively, maybe these unlikely coincidences result from sloppy plotting that could not be remedied due to the Writer’s Strike; I prefer the more intricate explanation.)
Some have suggested that the obscured events of the climax imply Frady may be the killer; such is the conditioning technique he has undergone we, who are seeing what he perceives, have no memory/experience of it. Thus, the assassination is fractured and unclear to both Frady and us. It’s not a take I’d dismiss out of hand, but I don’t think it really adds up. Frady and Linder have unwittingly signed up to be fall guys. They are not hit men. On each occasion there is an assassination attempt we see the same assassin. Parallax isn’t going to leave this kind of thing to chance. But his case is different to Lindor’s (there is the possibility that he did believe he was there to kill the Senator since he was armed; alternatively, like Sirhan Sirhan he might have no awareness of the circumstances that brought him to the Needle with a gun in his hand). For Parallax to be a success, they need to be able to exert watertight control over situations, which require an actual gunman and a fake gunman on each occasion.
Commission Spokesman: Although I’m certain that it will do nothing to discourage the conspiracy peddlers, there is no evidence of a conspiracy in the assassination of George Hammond.
The Parallax View ends as it has begun; the status quo is upheld and divisive voices are silenced. Anyone infuriated by (as an example of governments telling outrageous porkies) the WMDs lie, and the protestations of those in power (Blair himself appropriated the “conspiracy theorists” as a term to stigmatise and ridicule, and it is one thrown about by mainstream media with gay abandon) over unsubstantiated rumour mongering, will recognise the smug, unassailable tone of the commission’s conclusions. If there’s a difference between the disillusionment in the face of overwhelming forces of darkness that informs The Parallax View and the disillusionment today, it’s that that the soma of mass consumption has rendered us indifferent, ineffectual, and complacent. Those in power rely on the ephemeral nature of even the largest scandals; news is only new for so longer, and outrage gives way to disinterest. One just has to ride it out. It is taken as read that few will be roused from their beds to take a stand (the Snowden affair has longer legs than most, but the public’s seeming acceptance of the Big Brother state is sadly indicative). If all else fails, the puppet rulers can bear the brunt of the damage. And such an approach appears to work. When polls consistently show a majority of the public continue to believe Oswald did not act alone, the issue becomes not so much one of provable facts but evidential erosion of trust in our elected representatives. We are disaffected enough not to believe the “facts” we are fed, but lack the passion to respond to it. Perhaps Pakula was right, and man is doomed.
This is an announcement, gentlemen. There will be no questions.