The Manchurian Candidate (1962) and Aeschylus’s Libation Bearers (458 BC)

Directed by John Frankenheimer
Screenplay: George Axelrod, based on the novel by Richard Condon
Released October, 1962 (n.b. very bad timing for a film about political assassination)

Characters
• Orestes -Raymond Shaw (Lawrence Harvey)
• Clytemnestra – Mrs. Iselin (Angela Lansbury)
• Aegisthus -Senator John Yerkes Iselin (in the novel, Mrs. Iselin had secretly poisoned Raymond’s father “General Shaw” long before and taken his inheritance) (cf. Sen. McCarthy)
• Pylades – Capt. Bennet Marco (Frank Sinatra)
• Electra (as Pylades’ wife not Orestes’ sister) – Rosie Chaney (Janet Leigh)

• Who do the Communist torturers and the Garden Club Ladies reflect?
• What is Dr. Yen Lo’s role? Does he have a parallel in the LB?
• Does the nurse have a double in the MC?
• What is Josie Jordan’s role? Does she have an equivalent in the LB?
• Who fulfill the chorus’s function and what do they do?

Plot, structure, themes
• What does MC change from LB and why? (e.g. think about Freudian psychology, certain racist depictions that might be more relevant to the 1960s than the 400s BC)
• What are the themes Aeschylus is most concerned with in his trilogy? i.e. what are the contemporary concerns that he uses myth to discuss?
• What themes is the MC most concerned with?
• How does the MC rewrite the LB to reflect contemporary concerns?
• In what ways are the MC and LB significantly different?
• What are the recurring metaphors in the LB? What about the MC?
• Are the implicitly incestuous relations between Mrs. Iselin and Raymond (much much more explicit in the book) present in the play? What other literary works does this invoke?
• What do the Lincoln references mean (images in numerous scenes with the Iselins)? Irony? Foreshadowing?
• NB in the book Raymond’s final actions are not a result of his own volition but are programmed by Marco (a less sympathetic character than Sinatra’s character in the film). What does the film’s reinterpretation of the ending say about the audience’s thoughts about free will??

Themes to consider from the Libation Bearers
1. Justice
• What is it? Which gods are interested in it? What are the 2 different kinds of justice in the play (and the trilogy)? Who enforces them? Which one works best (for the victim, the avenger, the community)?
2. Gender role reversals: What gender roles are reversed and why? What kind of a mother is Clytemnestra?
3. Metaphor: Nets, snake, milk, eagles (and others) – what do these mean?

Leave a Reply