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June 11, 2016 11:36 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for examples (in film, etc.) of a certain aesthetic of paranoid conspiracy theorism, as exemplified by The Milkman Conspiracy from the game Psychonauts.

I think that The Milkman Conspiracy was parodying an older, established cinematic shorthand for paranoid conspiracy thinking: black helicopters, unmarked CIA vans, walls covered with marked-up newspaper clippings, creepy music full of theremins and vibraphones, skewed camera angles, Illuminati imagery, elaborate webs of tenuous/incidental connections, and a general sense of covert menace and hidden observers behind every grassy knoll.

I'm not after material produced by people who really believe in this stuff – instead, I'm looking for fictional representations of people who are caught up in conspiratorial thinking, or fictional worlds where the conspiracies really are true.

My sense is that this aesthetic really came into its prime back when theories about the JFK assassination and the moon landings were in vogue in the conspiracy scene. It can be played straight, or (as in Psychonauts) for humorous effect. I feel like I've seen clips of some older (black-and-white?) movies which depict it, but I don't know what they might have been.
posted by escape from the potato planet to Media & Arts (26 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Brazil maybe?
posted by crocomancer at 12:07 PM on June 11, 2016

I'm not sure I understand, are you looking for overt depictions of the hidden and covert as represented via the paranoid mindset?
posted by rhizome at 12:07 PM on June 11, 2016

Oddly, Taxi Driver comes to mind.

There is a JFK conspiracy movie with grandpa Walton and Mr. Olson from 'Little House' acting as the bad guys. It is injected with a lot of conspiracy wallpaper and paint with a sundry images of other conspiracies.
posted by clavdivs at 12:08 PM on June 11, 2016

The Parallax View
posted by yerfatma at 12:11 PM on June 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

It's a book, but Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 is exactly what you're looking for.
posted by xil at 12:13 PM on June 11, 2016 [6 favorites]

A Beautiful Mind has several scenes of this, detailing John Nash's paranoia.
posted by NordyneDefenceDynamics at 12:44 PM on June 11, 2016

I am not clear what you are looking for, but Mel Gibson's Conspiracy Theory is one of the better done conspiracy movies that I know of.
posted by Michele in California at 12:47 PM on June 11, 2016

Pi comes close to this.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 12:49 PM on June 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Mercury Rising is another good conspiracy movie.
posted by Michele in California at 12:50 PM on June 11, 2016

Foucault's pendulum!
posted by xris at 12:52 PM on June 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

I like the TV series Fringe. They had the Observers, who were fascinating.
posted by Sweet Dee Kat at 1:01 PM on June 11, 2016

Even though it's a comedy I think Jumping Jack Flash fits the bill. It's also notable for the early depiction of computer-based conspriacies.
posted by Room 641-A at 1:08 PM on June 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Illuminatus! is the canonical example of this.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 1:09 PM on June 11, 2016

Enemy of the State comes to mind immediately, I think it does this really well. Frank Devereaux in the 7th season of Supernatural is solidly cast from this mold too. And The Lone Gunmen from X Files of course.

Crazy Walls seems quite relevant.
posted by Fantods at 1:38 PM on June 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

'Name of the Rose' (movie)
posted by clavdivs at 3:21 PM on June 11, 2016

There's the "Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design" episode of Community.
posted by synecdoche at 4:32 PM on June 11, 2016

"Sneakers" has the character 'Mother', played by Dan Aykroyd, who is a talented electronics expert on the team of security experts (who specialize in penetration testing, i.e.breaking in to test how easy it is to break in) and he believes some whoppers, such as the fakibg of the moon Lansing and, IIRC, the assassination of Marilyn Monroe. Naturally this is a conflict with Sidney Poitier's character, who left the CIA due to anger-management issues.

The Samuel L Jackson movie "The Caveman's Valentine" is about a cave dwelling homeless New Yorker, Romulus, who suffers from schizophrenia. We witness his delusion and hallucinations through him, such as the dancing moth-seraphs that live in his brain, and the searching beams emitted by the Chrysler building, guided by the man who lives at the top and controls the world. The interesting thing is that Romulus is the story's detective in a murder mystery.
posted by Sunburnt at 6:35 PM on June 11, 2016

1963's unreleased The Manchurian Candidate, starring Frank Sinatra and Angela Lansbury. Finally saw daylight in the 1980s, kiboshed due to, well, you can figure it out.

Sinatra plays a GI taken captive by North Korea (iirc) and brainwashed. His brainwashing reprograms him as an assassin and he is activated during a political campaign.

There are other "brainwashed progammed assassin" movies. It was a mini-genre during the Cold War, probably because it appealed to the idea that the Bad Guys had mastered literal mind control. Heck, conspiracy movies of the sixties and seventies are thick on the ground, if afield from the yarnboard nutcase esthetic you cite above. In this era, it was a common trope for an everyman filmic protagonist to become unwittingly enmeshed as a victim at the center of an active conspiracy, or to discover one kept from the public at murderous jeopardy (North by Northwest, The Boys From Brazil).

Oliver Stone's JFK sorta bridges both eras.
posted by mwhybark at 7:02 PM on June 11, 2016

My mistake: The Manchurian Candidate was released in 1962 to a good reception. It was not subsequently rereleased or licensed for TV until the 1980s for the obvious reason left unexplained in my prior post.
posted by mwhybark at 7:09 PM on June 11, 2016

Seconding Enemy of the State. Great movie, and frighteningly prescient.

Marathon Man
The Ghost Writer
The Prisoner (tv show)
L.A. Confidential

posted by Room 641-A at 8:54 PM on June 11, 2016

Mwhy, you may have thought of the line change in 'Dr. Stranglove' from "a fella could have a good time in Dallas" to "Vegas"

Kennedy was delighted and spooked when told who would play mother in 'Manchurian'

John frankenhiemer drove RFK to the ball room were he was killed.

posted by clavdivs at 9:02 PM on June 11, 2016

The King of the Hill character Dale Gribble believes most of the conspiracy theories.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 9:23 PM on June 11, 2016

Perennial Metafilter favorite: The Conversation
posted by sigmagalator at 9:53 PM on June 11, 2016

The President's Analyst (1967) takes place in a fictive world of real conspiracy, played for (zany) humorous effect.
posted by mumkin at 12:59 AM on June 12, 2016

Two that come to mind are The Fifth Estate (movie) and the first couple of seasons of Homeland (tv series). Both deal with real-world (alledged) conspiracies.
posted by rjs at 1:21 AM on June 12, 2016

Bubba Ho-Tep is set in a world where (maybe) Elvis Presley and JFK are alive, elderly, and living in the same Retirement Home. JFK, by the way, is black - which the character thinks is proof of how powerful the conspiracy against him is. The pair of them have to fight off a malevolent Egyptian mummy. Might sound a bit deranged, but it's very good.

"I think you know what I'm gettin' at Mr. President. We're gonna kill us a mummy."
posted by veedubya at 1:22 AM on June 12, 2016

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