The Conversation

The Conversation Literary Elements


Francis Ford Coppola

Leading Actors/Actresses

Gene Hackman, Harrison Ford

Supporting Actors/Actresses

Robert Duvall, Teri Garr, John Cazale, Cindy Williams, Allen Garfield, Elizabeth MacRae






Won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 1974; Nominated for 3 Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Sound)

Date of Release



Francis Ford Coppola

Setting and Context

1970s San Francisco

Narrator and Point of View

Harry Caul is the central protagonist, and we see all the action through his point of view

Tone and Mood

The tone is eerie and melancholic, at times suspenseful and surreal. It is a dramatic mystery with thriller elements

Protagonist and Antagonist

Protagonist: Harry Caul; Antagonist: The Director, among others

Major Conflict

The major conflict is Harry Caul's belief that his surveillance work will lead to the murder of innocent people. While he wants to remain objective in his work as a surveillance expert, he is haunted by memories of his work leading to violence in the past and wants to make sure that that doesn't happen again. This causes him to become increasingly obsessed with his latest project, which he fears will bring unnecessary violence.


The climax occurs both when Harry breaks into room 773, and when he discovers the secret of the murder that actually took place, when he returns to the office and realizes that Ann and Mark killed the director.


The tapes themselves are a constant foreshadowing device. While the meaning of the tapes remains vague, throughout, they contain a number of clues that become highly relevant by the end of the film. The moment when Harry chastises Stan for taking the lord's name in vain is also an instant of foreshadowing; it foreshadows the fact that Harry is Catholic, and that he feels very guilty about his past "sins."



Innovations in Filming or Lighting or Camera Techniques

Much of the photography and sound editing was innovative for the time. Soundscapes are spliced together, as are images, to create the impression of fragmentation, and to show that Harry is seeking to piece together reality through the surveillance he has collected.


The Catholic imagery is a major allusion in the film, and calls Catholic doctrine and Christian ideology to mind.


The main paradox of the film is that while Harry is one of the best surveillance experts in the business, his greatest fear is being surveilled himself. The paradox at the end is that while Harry wanted to save the day, he ends up having been wrong about the implications of the tapes and only gets more embroiled in the scandal, compromising his privacy.


Meredith, Ann, and Amy are all parallels of one another. While Harry feels that he cannot confide in Amy because it is too dangerous, he eventually confides to Meredith that he misses Amy. Meredith becomes a stand-in for Amy. Then, in the dream, Harry confides in the dream version of Ann. For Harry, women all exist in parallel to one another, and he seeks to find a trustworthy confidant among them.