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Film / Conspiracy Theory

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Conspiracy Theory is a 1997 American action/paranoid thriller film directed by Richard Donner, starring Mel Gibson, Julia Roberts and Patrick Stewart. The original screenplay by Brian Helgeland centers on an eccentric taxi driver who believes many world events are triggered by government conspiracies.

Jerry Fletcher is a man in love with Alice Sutton, a woman he observes from afar. She works for the government. Fletcher is an outspoken critic of that government. He has conspiracy theories for everything, from aliens to political assassinations. But soon, one of his theories finds itself to be accurate. But which one? Some dangerous people want him dead and the only person he trusts is that woman he loves but does not know.

Conspiracy Theory contains examples of:

  • Arc Words: More like an Arc Song Lyrics, but yeah; "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You".
  • Apologetic Attacker:
    • Jerry apologizes to a policeman he must knock out when escaping from the hospital.
    • Jerry and Alice both apologize after (apparently) knocking out on the same government agent.
  • Bald of Evil: Dr. Jonas.
  • Berserk Button: Jerry outright says, "I'm not a violent man, but if you hurt Alice, I swear, I'll kill you."
  • Big Brother Is Watching: The Government keeps track of several of their Manchurian agents by using their compulsion to buy "The Catcher in the Rye".
  • Black Helicopter: Jerry claims to hear them buzzing over the city, and they're observed overhead at the end of the film.
  • Chekhov's Gun: At one point, Jerry uses a Tap on the Head to try and knock out a government agent, and has to do it again because he realizes the agent is faking unconsciousness. Later in the movie, after Alice hits the same agent on the head and leaves him behind, he immediately gets up and follows her.
  • CIA Evil, FBI Good:
    • The FBI help Jerry and Alice, whereas the CIA, and Dr. Jonas, is after them.
    • Subverted when Agent Lowry reveals he and his associates work for an entirely different intelligence agency, which he declines to name. Even HE isn't really named Lowry.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Jerry, in part thanks to the brainwashing he suffered and the gravy for the brain.
  • The Cuckoo Lander Was Right: Jerry. Turns out that several of his theories were proven right later on.
  • Conspiracy Theorist: Jerry. He even has a conspiracy theory newsletter.
  • Conspiracy Thriller: It's right in the title, really.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Jerry's apartment is rigged to burn down completely but to leave the rest of the building unharmed. He also has a secret basement built in and a fireman's outfit lying around.
  • Creator Cameo: Richard Donner as Jerry's first fare, wearing shades.
  • Deadly Euphemism: "Gravy for the Brain" for mind-altering drugs.
  • Deranged Taxi Driver: Jerry Fletcher is a paranoid New York cab driver who rants and raves about conspiracies to any passenger who will listen (and anyone who won't). His home is basically a survivalist's bunker, even armed with a self-destruct system. Turns out he has a good reason for his erratic behavior; he may have been an MK Ultra subject, brainwashed into being a sleeper assassin, and is fighting his programming
  • Drugs Are Bad: No! Not the gravy for the brain!
  • Government Conspiracy: Dr. Jonas, the guy in charge of the brainwashing unit, worked for the government.
  • Gunman with Three Names: Jerry discusses this at one point, mentioning John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald, wondering at what significance it has.
  • Home Field Advantage: When the bad guys come calling, Jerry's prepared. Not only does he have numerous warning systems, he also spent a great deal of time turning his home into an instant firetrap, allowing him to escape, but which was set up in such a way that it didn't spread to other apartments.
  • In Love with the Mark: Jerry was originally tasked with killing Alice's dad. Alice's dad is able to help him break out of his programming, for the most part, and asks Jerry to take care of his daughter, which is why Jerry is always stalking her.
  • Kill Sat: One of his theories involves the use of the Space Shuttle to kill the President. Implied to be true.
  • Logo Joke: We zoom out from the WB shield to reveal it's on the side of a bus-for some reason.
  • Lost in a Crowd: Jerry tries it - with varied success - few times throughout the movie. And when it doesn't work, he instead incites the crowd to panic, providing distraction anyway.
  • Mad Scientist: Dr. Jonas. Including brainwashing, creating Manchurian agents, and use of psychedelic drugs.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: The subscribers to Jerry's conspiracy theory newsletter all die suddenly from heart attacks. He unsurprisingly says they were drugged by the CIA to make it look this way. Jerry himself later nearly suffers this in the hospital, but switches his chart with the patient sharing his room, who soon dies from a sudden heart attack.
  • Manchurian Agent: Dr. Jonas creates this. Jerry was this.
  • Mushroom Samba: We're shown a bit of how Jerry's perceptions are altered after he gets injected with LSD and subject to torture. Not played for laughs.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailers laid out the tale of a nut who it turns out actually has the right theory. The actual movie was different and some viewers felt the trailer offered the more interesting story.
  • Not Me This Time: Dr. Jonas claims responsibility for all known assassination attempts except the Reagan shooting.
    Jonas: That all ended when John Hinkley shot Ronald Reagan (beat) Oh, that wasn't us.
  • Overt Operative: For all that Jonas's forces are meant to be a covert unit, they are blindingly obvious while in motion. Even their "stealth" helicopters are readily visible as men rappel into the streets.
  • Pistol-Whipping: Jerry uses a pistol to knock out a government agent.
  • Production Throwback: When Jerry is attempting to pull Lost in a Crowd in a cinema, the barely visible film on the screen is Ladyhawke. The title is not mentioned anywhere, but it was directed by Richard Donner.
  • Profound by Pop Song: When Jerry (a troubled Deranged Taxi Driver with a head full of bad wiring) tries telling Alice he loves her, he ends up awkwardly quoting lyrics from "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" by The Police. Alice lampshades it immediately.
  • Properly Paranoid: Jerry is super paranoid. Given that he escaped a brainwashing facility and was a Manchurian Agent proves he's right.
  • Sinister Surveillance: How they keep track of some people as they have the compulsion to buy The Catcher in the Rye every so often.
    • It's implied that John Lennon's assassin might have been brainwashed in the same way, since he was obsessed with it.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Jerry probably qualifies: he peeps through Alice's window, bugs her at work, and maintains a Stalker Shrine. He is, however, harmless (to her, at least).
  • Title Drop: Jerry's newsletter is called Conspiracy Theory.
  • Too Broken to Break: Discussed: after Dr. Jonas captures Jerry and (falsely) tells him Alice is dead, a despondent Jerry mutters, "Then you can't hurt me anymore." Jonas's smirking response: "I'll be the judge of that."
  • Trust Password: Alice believes Jerry when he says he didn't kill her father and in-fact fought his brainwashing and befriended him. How does she know that? "He made great coffee."
  • Waxing Lyrical:
    Jerry: I — I resolve to call you up a thousand times a day and, um, ask you if you'll marry me in some old fashioned way. And every — everything you do is magic.
  • You Killed My Father: In the stables, Jerry remembers this is where Alice's father died. Although he wasn't the killer, Alice jumps to conclusions and assaults him.
    Alice: Did he see you coming, Jerry? Huh? [pushes him down, attacks him] Did he beg for his life? You put a gun to his head and you shot him, didn't you? Didn't you? He died in the dirt, like an animal! Jerry, you killed my father! Answer me! I have to know!