“We’ll be listening to you” (Coppola, 1974) – is the final phrase of the movie that turns the life of the major character into hell and makes him considerably change own life and own perception of this world.
The story under consideration, created by Francis Ford Coppola in far 1974, touches upon numerous aspects of our current life, the idea of intimacy, not as sexual relations, but as a state of close contact and thorough awareness about each other (Adler & Proctor, 2006), and the necessity to be attentive concerning self-disclosure during the conversations with other people.
Harry Caul’s occupation is to bug everyone and follow the rule of non-intimacy: the access to human talks, problems, and fears cannot remain unnoticed, and the more this man gets to know about other people, the worst his own situation and own life becomes. He is aware about the possibility of being bugged at any place and any time, and it is not a surprise that soon, he becomes obsessed with an idea that someone is bugging him.
His awareness about people’s conversations should not become an obstacle in his life, however, his duty not to disclose information become an extensive burden to bear. The price, the character Harry Caul has to pay for non-disclosure, remains to be considerable and even dangerous for him: the more he knows, the more troubles he may face; and one day he becomes captured by own bugs and own ideas, unable to find the necessary way out, and removed from his own life.
Understanding of interpersonal relations is crucially important for those, who intend to create good relations and know much about each other. Unfortunately, deep awareness about each other’s good and bad sides, about interests, weaknesses, and desires may lead to unpredictable results, and this information may become harmful for one or both representatives of interpersonal communication.
Intimacy has to be present in relations, but it is also necessary to remember to control it and be able to define where personal life has to be ended, and public should be started.
Adler and Proctor (2006) underline that it is impossible to establish close relations with everyone and use the concept of intimacy as the central one in the relations. According to their points of view, high level of intimacy does not actually necessary to create really successful relations, but still, relations and intimacy becomes interconnected notions. In case with the character Harry Caul, the idea of intimacy is present in each of his steps, and the desire to create any kinds of relations is absolutely absent.
This is why it is inevitable for Harry Caul face challenges soon. His passion to his work and the desire to bug and analyze conversations play an evil game with him: it is impossible to know much and to not take some steps to improve the situation, save someone’s life, and especially own life. He is able to record any conversation of two people anywhere, and breadth and depth of information received does not actually matter: “there is no moment between human beings that I cannot record…” (Coppola, 1974)
The peculiar feature of his work is the ability to analyze the tone, speed, and depth of conversation in order to present possible development of the events, people’s attitude to the situation under conversation, and their personal intentions.
The problem is that Mr. Caul has the only right to listen and use his bugs to find out information, but such actions like care after the participants of the conversation, attention to own feelings, and observation of people and their living conditions are forbidden and have to be neglected.
Degrees of self-disclosures may be of different forms: cliches, opinions, facts, and feelings. The character Harry Caul serves as a good example of how different degrees of self-disclosure may influence the development of situation and even the lives of other people.
For example, person’s opinions reveal much information: when a person presents his/her own opinion about the concrete situation, he/she demonstrates his/her attitude, fears, and background awareness. This is why it is very important to be careful with opinions in order not to create some uncomfortable situations. Introduction of facts may also influence self-disclosure.
One of the most significant facts that bother the major character during the whole movie is “he’d kill us if he got the chance” (Coppola, 1974). On the one hand, this fact does not qualify as self-disclosure, on the other hand, it is possible to guess that the speaker has already done something wrong or dangerous, and now, has to be punished.
In spite of the fact that this information does not present clear information about the members of the conversation, this fact plays a very important role in the life of the bugger and influences all his future life. The question is whether it is justified to get to know some facts about people around if this awareness leads to self-destruction and disappointments.
Unfortunately, in the movie, all situations and conversations are presented only from one perspective, from the Harry Caul’s one, and we cannot judge the actions of this person or find out how they may be evaluated by other people.
This is why, all we can do is to observe Harry Caul’s life and job, and get the same opportunity to hear information that may be hidden for us in case we observe the situation from some other character’s side. In The Conversation, Harry Caul, as an experienced bugger, has an access to human motivation, feelings, and even thoughts. Sometimes, it turns out to be very hard to accept truth as it is and not to be able to do something.
Harry is “the best bugger on the West Coast” (Coppola, 1974). He knows this fact and makes use of it as frequent as possible. Harry also knows that his father is really proud of son’s abilities to tap and find out the truth and that such job brings good money. So, Harry does not believe that his job may lead to some problems or may hurt someone.
He just knows that he does his job well and his clients are satisfied; but what he does not know is that sometimes, he may be involved in all this so deep, that nothing can save him and nothing can protect him against own thoughts and emotions.
From the very beginning, it is just another interest that is raised somewhere inside. With time, this interest turns into passion and even obsession. However, Harry does not want to notice and comprehend that he is already obsessed with tapping and bugging, this is why he cannot realize that one day his life and his perception may be ruined.
The point is that some other people know about this obsession of Harry Caul and can easily use it in order to control a person and use his abilities. Such characters like Martin Stett or even Meredith may know more about Harry, and they try to do anything possible to predict him from the biggest mistake in his life: “for your own sake, don’t get involved any further” (Coppola, 1974), however, his passion has already absorbed him, and he has nothing to do but being broken and being frightened.
Awareness of other people makes Harry being dependable on the situation and get involved into it as it is necessary for those people. The character Martin Stett makes several attempts in order to explain how serious and unpredictable the results of his listening may be, but for Harry, the words are not strong evidence.
Though when he hears the most terrible for him words that “the bugger got bugged” (Coppola, 1974) and comprehend this truth, he cannot even find any sense of his life, and as a result, he stays alone in his empty and destroyed by himself room with the only one safe thing, his saxophone. Such an end of the movie symbolizes the fact that self-awareness, self-validation, self-clarification, and the ability to have intimate relations with the whole world leads to disaster, caused by human actions only.
It is not a secret that many people want to hear more than they are able to hear, want to see more than they usually see, and want to know everything about people around. Of course, it is almost impossible to achieve these purposes and get an access to other people’s lives, but still, this idea is in my mind and cannot leave me.
I always think that a movie is the only chance for people to see how their dreams may work on reality. There are many sophisticated directors, who may present masterpieces not only in order to entertain but also in order to learn and show people how their lives may be improved or destroyed within a short period of time.
Francis Ford Coppola is a genius in film-making industry, and his movies are always under hot discussions and considerable demand in many countries. His Conversation is a unique work that teaches us how intimacy of relations may be spoiled because of human abilities and obsession.
Of course, all people make mistake and try to learn on them; however, when one mistake becomes the whole life, it is not easy to change something and achieve good results or at least avoid terrible consequences. The life of the character Harry Caul is a good example to evaluate from numerous perspectives. I truly believe that in spite of the fact that this film was created in far 1970s, it touches many themes, which are current and burning today.
First of all, the idea of non-disclosure has to be mentioned. Usually, when people start working, they have to sign the non-disclosure agreement and follow the conditions described. In case with Harry Caul, the situation is a bit more complicated, as it is not only about working non-disclosure but is about constant non-disclosure during life and communications with other people.
I feel that his job should have considerable consequences on the character’s life. I also get a chance to realize how it is dangerous to get access to human lives, to hear information that is not intended to me, and to see the things, which have to be hidden. If a person knows too much, he/she becomes involve in everything around, and human state of mind cannot accept all this information and ignore it.
It becomes hard not to feel, not to see, not to care. And Harry Caul’s duty to follow the conditions of non-disclosure agreement does not allow him demonstrating his attitude to the situation; this is why his inward struggle is destroying him from the inside from the day, he started working.
As for me, I find many similarities between Harry Caul and myself. From my childhood, I always tried to listen to the conversations between the members of my family, expecting to hear something about myself and my actions. My own Birthday always raises an inside desire to search for my presences or at least to hear my parent’s talks about possible gifts.
Such passion of mine makes me believe that I have something in common with Harry Caul. And this movie shows how dangerous these desires can be, so, I have already decided that it is very good not to know everything about people around and always have a kind of mystery to think about. Some of my friends also remind me the same character, and I truly believe that the idea of non-disclosure of information will never be on our way to grasp truth and enjoy our mutual understanding.
Interpersonal communication is one of the most captivating themes to deal with. It touches numerous aspects and the end of such discussions cannot be the same all the time. People try to take various steps in order to find out some interesting information about each other and strengthen their relations. However intimacy in relations may be of different types and lead to unpredictable results.
Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation is an interesting movie that opens several new aspects of interpersonal relations and describes how considerable the price of non-disclosure can be. When a person knows something but cannot react properly, the results of such awareness will hardly be positive. The price of non-disclosure is a kind of bound state that deprives people of the opportunity to follow own interests and desires.
One of the most dangerous things for any person is dependence on circumstances or people, inability to demonstrate own attitude, and fear that someone may critic and control this live. The character Harry Caul is able to bug everyone and everywhere; he knows much about everyone but cannot use this information to change something. At the same time, he has control over people and he cannot change anything.
And the news that he is bugged as well, and all his actions are under someone’s control create many problems, fears, and inabilities to think logically and continue this life in the same way. This price is too high for Harry Caul, because he loses the most important issue in this life – to live free and privately.
Adler, R. B. & Proctor II, R. F. (2006). Looking Out, Looking In. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing.
Coppola, F.F. (Producer & Director). (1974). The Conversation [Film]. California, USA: Paramount Pictures & American Zoetrope.