Mind control is a topic that speaks to a very primal human fear. Most people become scared when they have no control over something. The feeling itself is very unsettling and causes anxiety and stress.
Mind control takes this idea a step further in suggesting the loss of control over one’s own mind. In the realm of film, the theme of mind control is as evident today as it was in the early years of film. The fact that one can take a film from the early twentieth century, another film midway through the twentieth century, and a film from the beginning of the twenty-first century and compare the similar theme of mind control suggests that this is a topic worth looking into. The three films to be used for example will be The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Manchurian Candidate, and Inception. Each of these films discuss mind control and arrive at the conclusion that, while it may be very difficult, mind control is at least in part possible.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a very odd, disturbing film. The film follows an older man named Dr. Caligari who has a somnambulist, named Cesar, that makes predictions as part of a show put on by Caligari. What is soon discovered is that Caligari controls Cesar much like a puppet to do his bidding. This is true until Cesar defies Caligari, not performing the task he is ordered by Caligari to perform. This moment in the film is very significant because it is the point where the viewer is led to believe that Caligari’s supposed control over Cesar was not complete. In the end, Cesar has a will of his own that breaks through all of the control that Caligari has obtained.
This theme of mind control would continue on after The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari throughout the next four decades to the production of The Manchurian Candidate in 1962. In this film, hero soldier, Raymond Shaw, and his compatriots are brain washed by the enemy into performing whatever tasks asked of them no matter how terrible or out of character they may be. It is apparent that there is nothing that these soldiers, most of all Raymond, will not do under this spell. Several of the soldiers who are with Raymond and equally brain washed begin to have memories of the actual brain washing manifested in dreams. This leads one particular soldier, Ben Marco, to begin questioning what happened to the men. Eventually Ben is able to discover what has happened to them but not before Raymond is ordered to kill his father-in-law and, in turn, his own wife. He does so with no immediate remorse. Ben confronts him and attempts to undo the brain washing. This leads to Raymond taking initiative to kill his own mother and step-father who were in on the plot. Raymond then turns the gun on himself. In the end, Raymond Shaw was helpless to the mind control exerted on him by the enemy. He is the only character that it seems is unable to break this spell by himself. He is able to beat it with the help of his fellow soldier, Ben Marco, but not until the damage has already been done. In this film it seems apparent again that mind control is possible, but not easy.
Fast forward from 1962 to 2010 and mind control is still in the forefront of film. In the film, Inception, Cobb is a man for hire who delves into people’s sub-conscience to acquire information. When asked if he could not only extract information but implant information, he takes on the seemingly impossible task in order to clear his lingering legal troubles. Cobb embarks performing the arduous tasks but hits trouble along the way with his own sub-conscience. The memory of his own late wife, Mal, will not allow him to succeed. What is discovered later is that Cobb knows that the idea of implanting information into someone’s sub-conscience is possible, an act known as “inception,” is because he is the one who implanted an idea in the mind of Mal that eventually led to her suicide. The project that Cobb takes on seems to have been a success by the end of the film which has very interesting connotations. In the world of Inception the act of inception is seemingly impossible. Even according to Cobb, who seems to be the only character in the story who has ever actually done it, it is extremely difficult. Not only is the act of subverting control over someone else’s mind very difficult, but it produces very serious and unpredictable consequences, as is seen in the case of Mal. This would seem to suggest that this particular film is echoing the first two in that mind control appears to be possible, but it is not an easy or always successful task.
In summation, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Manchurian Candidate, and Inception, while being separated by almost a century in time, all seem to be saying the same thing. While each film says it a bit differently, each film seems to suggest that mind control is most definitely something to be feared. It has the possibility to force someone to do something by subverting their own desires and will. While this is possible, it is difficult, however, and often times it does not work as it is intended to.