I have loved whatever few Copolla movies I have seen . And this was one movie I had been hunting for for quite a long time – and just like that it came to me on a platter – my brother gifted me the entire movie collection that he had amassed in his trip to HK! I cannot express my delight on getting the set – even though I have already watched more than 60% of the movies in it. Owning original DVDs is priceless.
The story follows a private surveillance expert Harry Caul who has been given an assignment by an influential agency to record the conversation of a couple. He starts the surveillance with the same professional detachment that he accords most cases, but soon finds himself concerned about the safety of these two young people as he realizes that his surveillance report could lead to their harm.
The Harry Caul in the movie, played brilliantly by Gene Hackman is shown to be a very private person plagued by past guilts that he shies from acknowledging, his concerns about privacy amount to a paranoia which leaves little scope for anything else. He surrenders all his relationships, a personal identity and at one point even his strong religious believes to preserve this privacy. The depiction of his insanity is rather classic – it is shown through his overpowering annoyance with any questions, his discomfort at finding a surprise gift in his apartment and his words to his landlady who insists on keeping a copy of the key to his apartment: I have nothing of value except my keys. The paranoia reaches a crescendo in the last scene, and throughout the movie, the disturbance and madness of Caul’s mind is mirrored in a beautiful and equally distracting background score (a Piano composition by David Shire).
The movie could be about several themes, each of them enveloping contemporary lives in significant ways. It shows the dilemma of determining the appropriate level of involvement/detachment from a professional assignment, it spends great time on the invasion of privacy by use of technology and like Blow-up, questions the perception of reality. But somewhere behind these broader themes hides a personal drama with all essential elements – religious believes, invasion of professional ethics with personal life, broken relationship, a dramatic past with burdensome guilts, professional jealousies, romantic imaging, chauvinism – there is very little in fact that is missing from the assortment. For the viewer, of course, the conversation of the couple and its significance remains a mystery till the very end, concluding in a sharp reversal – also adding thrill to the drama.
It is one of those movies which I would like to watch a second time. It is perhaps one of the few movies which seem completely different when you watch them pre-armed with the knowledge of the end – you are able to piece together several things that still do not seem to thread at the end in the first viewing. You look at the scenes and the conversation with a different perspective. I have understood (and appreciated) the nuances of movies like Matrix, Prestige, Sixth Sense much more in the second, surprise-proof viewing.