Hazel McHaffie

Korean war

The Manchurian Candidate

Well, that’s the Ethics Film Festival over for another year. And I’ve survived! No rotten tomatoes or heckling or booing. Phew!

The format is the same for each session: the film is shown, and then a panel of professionals from different disciplines (bioethics, law, philosophy, politics, sociology) comment on it before engaging the audience in discussion about the issues. I had my moment on the high stool at the front on Sunday afternoon (talking about The Manchurian Candidate). The quality of the challenges that come from the floor always impresses me – sometimes I struggle to even understand the question, never mind answer it.  But maybe the label ‘ethics’ attracts an erudite and informed thinker in the first place.

Anyway this year I actually found it quite stimulating analysing one film in detail and thinking about its messages. When the film The Manchurian CandidateThe Manchurian Candidate was first shown in the early 1960s the world was a different place. It tells the story of an American army sergeant (played by Laurence Harvey) who is decorated for his bravery in the Korean war. But his superior officer Major Marco (Frank Sinatra) suspects there’s something phoney about the account of an ambush and bravery under attack, and sets about uncovering the bizarre truth. It features a power-crazed mother, a puppet presidential candidate, warring senators, hypnotic card games, a couple of delectable girls, and an escalating plot to gain a foothold in the White House.

That early version caught the mood of the time – doubts about America’s involvement in Korea and deep suspicion about communist infiltration. And yet the film is still challenging today fifty years later, making it such a good choice for the Neuroethics Film Festival. How brainwashed are we? How much do we exercise freewill, or is our future pre-determined by our biological brains? How much moral responsibility should we take for our own actions and opinions?

I must confess I was devoutly grateful that I wasn’t allocated the final flim, A Clockwork Orange. Horribly violent and disturbing. But, or course, an effective and powerful stimulant to vigorous debate on the issues of correction and deterrent, punishment and rehabilitation, competition for resources, moral responsibility, religious conviction and political agendas. Which was the whole point.

Appearing at our local library a couple of days later was tame and safe by comparison. I am after all an acknowledged expert on the subject of my own novels … I hope! I know why I wrote what I wrote. And I’m prepared to defend my choices to the death!

So, that’s the end of my professional away-dates for this year. Things start up again after New Year but for now I can settle back into working in the warmth and security of my study. And in between sneak in a little preparation for Christmas. Yes!!

Speaking of Christmas …poinsettiasThis was a small part of the thousands of plants on display during the annual poinsettia walk at the Pentland Garden Centre this week. Fabulous, eh? The prime specimen on our kitchen windowsill at this very moment is lifting my spirits already.


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