The Parallax View (1974)
What’s most jarring about The Parallax View is all the explosions. I don’t really mean pyro-tech explosions in the varieties of Die Hard or The Hurt Locker (although there are a few of these too) but in the striking uneven pace of action. It goes from 0 to 60 to 0, minute by minute. Like the semi-pro assassins who work for the secret corporation that Warren Beatty’s newspaper reporter character has stumbled over, the action will find you at your most vulnerable, during the seemingly sedate moments. The shocks aren’t meant to thrill, but to perhaps disquiet the illusion of personal safety. So when Beatty suddenly finds himself witness to an unmotivated political murder, attacked by a stranger, or accidentally on board an airliner with a bomb in the hatch, the lack of provocation perpetrates a psychological violence. It scars you on the inside. Some people may not go for this, but they don’t make movies like this anymore.
There is an important historical context here which is that Parallax is being made within a 10 year window of the Kennedy and King assassinations and the subsequent conspiracy inceptions. Like the American public of the era, Beatty is both bystander and victim. His desensitized reactions are a syndrome, a sequela, a numbed nonchalance amid the dangerous conspiracy encircling him. Is he fearless or just stupefied? What should he do? What did the American public do? “Parallax” refers to the perceived position of an object according to the position of the observer, as through the viewfinder of a camera. The idea of things not being what they appear is an instructive commentary on the content and context experience of this brilliantly confusing film.