The Meaning of Francis Coppola’s ‘The Conversation’

Psychological detective “Conversation” was shot in 1974 by the flagship of the New Hollywood, Francis Ford Coppola. The relevance of the film in those years is obvious: the height of the “cold war” with the “witch hunt” gaining momentum, the Watergate scandal. And in general – the “obsession” of Americans on the inviolability of private property and personal life.

And what do we have today about the problems of the protagonist of The Conversation, who was covered with paranoia due to the fact that he became the object of listening and surveillance? The all-seeing eye of the Internet, the dominance of voice recorders and smartphones, a bunch of hackers and lidomineers have long adapted people to the fact that their personal data and private life can become the property of many. But the meaning of the film for the modern viewer is that after watching, the faint of heart will run to seal the cameras of their laptops, examine phones, and delete provocative posts from social networks. And people will think harder: you can’t appreciate the true scale and psychological consequences of the problem until it touches you personally.

The protagonist of the film is San Francisco resident Harry Cole, a middle-aged man with sparse graying hair and massive glasses. He is single and leads a secluded life. Likes to have a drink and play the saxophone. Distrust of everyone (neighbors, mistresses, colleagues), secrecy and suspiciousness are in his blood. A sort of Chekhov’s “man in a case.”

The business that Cole has been doing for many years is fulfilling orders from interested parties to listen to other people’s private conversations and sell tapes with a recording. Showing resourcefulness, ingenuity and scrupulousness, Harry makes good money. At the same time, he follows two rules: do not delve into the content of what he heard and “do not drive” about the moral aspect of his actions. To maintain peace of mind, sometimes he goes to confession, and the responsibility for the consequences is fully placed on clients.

Violation of the regulations becomes the reason that one day Cole from an expert on listening devices turns into an object of surveillance. The spring that launched the mechanism for the development of his phobia and paranoid fear of “wiretapping” was a difficult task. It was required to record the conversation of a couple during their meeting in a public place. In bustling Union Square, Ann and Mark’s speech was drowned out by street musicians. Harry “sat on the ears” of the words “he would have killed us if he could.” But the “hearer” did not attach any importance to them, evaluating the phrase as a simple turn of phrase.

When Cole brings the finished soundtrack to the customer, he is met by the deputy director of the company. Mr. Stett promises to hand everything over to the boss. The expert prefers to hand over the order in person when he is in the office. When leaving the building, he meets Ann and Mark. A phrase from the conversation of lovers pops up in my head. What will happen when they are revealed?

It would seem that a cynical pro cannot be taken for a living. Overheard conversations are of interest to him only in terms of sound quality. But the woman, who was originally just a faceless voice on tape, becomes alive, and therefore worthy of sympathy. And I also remembered the case when the information he collected led to a triple murder. The nerves of “the best specialist on the West Coast” have given up and the rule of “mind your own business” has been violated.

The next day brings a lot of anxiety to the unflappable Harry. While attending an exhibition of new tracking technologies, he quarrels with a competitor. After a party at the office, he discovers that the last order’s work tracks disappeared along with the prostitute. The next morning, the phone rings in his apartment. The voice on the other end of the line says that to ensure the safety of the recording, he is being “looked after” until he comes to collect the money.

For the first time, the detective is concerned about the fate of the object of surveillance, because the day before he saw in a dream that Ann was killed. Cole manages to find out about the location of the next meeting of the couple. He checks into a nearby hotel room, setting up a microphone behind the wall. In the skirmish, the voices of the girl and the businessman, to whom he handed over the tape with the conversation the day before, are clearly audible. Screams and noise on the balcony testify to the murder. He breaks into the crime scene, but does not find the victim’s body.

Shocked that he was unable to prevent the tragedy, Cole returns home. Suddenly, on the street, he sees Ann alive and unharmed. And the newspapers published an article about the death of the director of a large corporation in an accident. Harry almost unconscious reaches the apartment. The phone rings: Martin Stett warns the private investigator to forget everything he saw. And reminds of the observation established for him.

The film ends with metaphorical shots: in search of hidden microphones, a specialist in these very “bugs” with the help of a jackhammer smashes his apartment to pieces. Finding nothing, exhausted and devastated, “the best listening device expert on the West Coast” sits on a chair in the middle of the room, picks up his favorite saxophone.

At the heart of the film “The Conversation” is the theme of man’s enslavement in the shell of his own fears, his hostility to reality and alienation from society. As a source of inspiration, the director called Antonioni’s thriller “Blow Up”.

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