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The Conversation

Tuesday, 11 June, 2013

Those wondering about Edward Snowdon, his motivations and deeds, might consider watching The Conversation, Francis Ford Coppola’s brilliant, paranoid psychological thriller from 1974. Starring Gene Hackman, with supporting roles by John Cazale, Cindy Williams, Harrison Ford and Robert Duvall, the film addresses the social role of technology and examines the effects of spying on the human mind and the cost of being forced to keep secrets against one’s principles.

Although Gene Hackman’s character does not understand the true meaning of the conversation he has recorded, he finds it deeply troubling. Sensing danger, he is increasingly uneasy about what may happen to the couple involved once the client hears the tape, so he plays it again and again throughout the film, gradually refining its content, constantly reinterpreting the speakers’ emphasis on particular words and phrases, trying to figure out their meaning in the light of what he fears.

The horrific tension so brilliantly portrayed by Gene Hackman in The Conversation comes to mind in considering the mental condition of those whistle-blowers who make confidential material available to the public. How do they deal with the risks? How do they cope with the often unforeseen consequences of their actions?

“Bless me Father for I have sinned. Three months since my last confession. I — these are my sins. Took the Lord’s name in vain on several occasions. On a number of occasions, I’ve taken newspapers from the racks without paying for them. I’ve — deliberately taken pleasure in impure thoughts. I’ve been involved in some work that I think, I think will be used to hurt these two young people. It’s happened to me before. People were hurt because of my work and I’m afraid it could happen again and I’m — I was in no way responsible. I’m not responsible. For these and all my sins of my past life, I am heartily sorry.” Harry Caul (Gene Hackman)


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