The Conversation, 1974. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Frederick Forrest, Allen Garfield, Terri Garr, Cindy Williams, Harrison Ford.

This is probably the most paranoid movie ever made, but unlike its brethren (The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Rosemary's Baby, The Thing), this argues convincingly for not only minding one's own business, but for ignoring the fact that we are all probably being watched in the first place. But more than that, this is also one of the most painfully accute, depressingly accurate depictions of the alienation of modern man on film. Gene Hackman's wiretapper, Harry Caul (a name which simultaneously suggests blindness and second sight), knows how private our lives really are. Because he knows how fragile that privacy is, he retreats so far into himself that he is almost incapable of human feeling--throughout the movie, Caul wears a rainslicker, a garment calculated to keep the world at bay. He seems to be on the verge of suffocating himself with his own isolation. In the course of the movie, Caul's curiosity about his surrounding is awakened by the converstation he has taped at the outset. In this tape, he discovers a private conspiracy, but he disastrously mis-interprets what he hears. There is an utterly creepy shot of the conspiracy's victim, now dead and wrapped in plastic, that is eerily similar to the way Harry dresses every day, suggesting that Harry is dead on the inside already.

The final shot of the movie is brilliant: Harry is now aware that he is being watched and tears up his apartment searching for surveilance equipment. Finally, he gives up. He strips naked and begins playing his saxaphone, as if he has accepted the fact that he is being watched and decides to live normally in spite of this. However, the camera pans back, and forth, and back, and forth. It is the point of view of the surveilance camera that Harry hasn't found. Fade out. This is chilly and chilling in deeply felt, profound ways.