Conspiracy Theory: Synopsis

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Jerry Fletcher (MEL GIBSON) lives in fear of a past he can't remember.

He spends his working hours driving a cab in New York City, talking compulsively about the conspiracies he thinks lurk behind everything. From fluoride in the water to international monetary policy, Jerry Fletcher has an opinion on all of it ­p; and his opinion is that "they" are in control, and we are the victims of some massive, terrible plot.

But Jerry's not a garden-variety crackpot. Because somewhere in his memory are flashes of recollection so frightening, so real and so sinister in their implications that Jerry Fletcher is certain he's not imagining things. There are bad people out there, working together. They have their eyes on Jerry and they want something from him. He just doesn't know what.

When Jerry's not driving his taxi, he's at home compulsively assembling all the information he can find on possible conspiracies. Then he takes his files and his theories to the only ear he believes is sympathetic to his warnings ­p; even though he's already been thrown out of Alice Sutton's office -- eight times, to be exact.

Alice (JULIA ROBERTS) is a dedicated Justice Department attorney working in New York. She has some compulsions of her own: since her father, a noted federal judge, was mysteriously murdered several years ago, Alice has been unable to accept the official explanation of his death ­p; or the identity of the killer. Instead, she has buried herself in work and in research on her father's case.

Alice has little patience (although she does acknowledge a slight, grudging fondness) for Jerry and his eccentricities. But then one day Jerry is abducted by the enigmatic Dr. Jonas (PATRICK STEWART), an urbane government psychiatrist who's as determined to know what Jerry's memory hides as Jerry is himself.

After a horrific encounter that nearly kills him, Jerry escapes Dr. Jonas and desperately seeks Alice, who now feels compelled to listen. The lawyer and the cabbie, an unlikely pair if ever there was one, suddenly find themselves in a desperate flight for their lives. In the process, they discover the truth about a shocking event that reveals secrets both of them must understand.

Jerry will protect Alice with his life, if necessary. But why? From whom? And where does Dr. Jonas fit in? Is this the conspiracy he's been waiting to uncover all along? Jerry doesn't know. But his heart tells him Alice means everything. The rest will explain itself.

The Nature of Conspiracies

A recent Newsweek article (1/6/97) states that "Conspiracy paranoia is surrounding us. A paranoid person might even say it's closing in, because these wacky theories aren't just spreading in the usual cheesy newsletters dense with type and craziness. Fomented on the Internet, conspiracism has become a kind of para-religion. Its vast flock ranges from casual believers to zealots who think O.J. Simpson was set up by the Japanese Mafia and that Prince Charles is a puppet of the New World Order ..."

John Whalen, co-author of 50 Greatest Conspiracies, says that "conspiracy theories are often spurious. But whether they are true, fractionally true or patently false, they are highly communicable. They spread like viruses; they often become urban legends that move from community to community and across generations.

"Talk radio and the Internet are abuzz with conspiracy scenarios: Black helicopters, the UN invasion forces in our backyard, UFO cover-upsThe technology used to disseminate those theories: the Internet, talk radio, photocopying machines, videotapes- [helps] conspiracy theories travel through the Zeitgeist faster and more widely than ever before.

"The other element fueling conspiracy theories is the public's cynicism about government, which seems to have reached epidemic proportions ­p; such as the CIA's efforts to assassinate foreign leaders, the CIA's illegal experiments with LSD on unsuspecting American civilians, Iran-contra, the FBI's illegal harassment of radicals during the Vietnam era, etc."

"There's a deep-seated willingness by people to believe that there are enemies out there," says producer/director Richard Donner. "There's a great comfort in believing that there's this malignant force out there that we can justifiably rage against."

Adds producer Joel Silver, "What a weird idea to believe that there might be bar codes on the back of Federal road signs that are secret instructions for the UN army planning a takeover. It shows the persistence of paranoia."

In the past decade, there has been an increase in the readiness of many people to believe in conspiracy theories. These theories tend to satisfy a human craving for boldly drawn melodrama; their villains are usually larger than life, ingenious in their depravity and all-powerful.

"How many conspiracy theories does any one person hear from another in a week?" asks Mel Gibson. "Who phoned in that bomb threat? Did they really try to slip Castro a poison cigar? All that kind of stuff that you never quite get an answer to, but everybody's got a theory."

"People who feel powerless," says Donner, "have a real satisfaction in knowing that there are enemies out there. After all, there is a kernel of truth in every conspiracy theory that gives it life."

Another Newsweek article (3/24/97) states, "At the end of an exhausting century, it's a comfortable way to make sense of a messy world. One-stop shopping for every explanation. Things don't just fall apart; the center doesn't just mysteriously fail to hold. Somebody makes them fall apart, and pointing the finger is easier than living with complexity...Where it gets tricky is that even paranoids have real enemies, and even conspiracy theories can occasionally turn out to be true."

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