The Conversation

The Conversation Summary and Analysis of Part 5: The Murder


Crouched beneath the sink, Harry begins to listen to the activity in Ann and Mark’s room. He hears the director, yelling, “I’m tired of this lying!” Then, in voiceover, we hear the tape of Mark and Ann walking through the square. As the camera zooms in on Harry’s face, we hear Ann feign innocence to the director. “This has all been a lie! Don’t you understand that?” she yells. As the shot zooms in closer on Harry’s face, we hear the tape rewinding, and Ann saying, “I love you” to Mark. We hear a clattering, as Harry rips the headphones out of his ears and stands, breathing heavily. He looks at himself in the mirror, and goes to the wall to listen, hearing muffled shouting. Overwhelmed, Harry sits down in a chair in the bedroom and looks at the wall, which is a pleasant painting of a seascape, with yellow flowers in the foreground and sailboats in the distance. The camera shows Harry, then shows the painted wall. We can hear the shouting next door as Harry struggles to decide what to do. We then see Harry’s shadow on the wall.

Harry rushes over to the sliding doors to the balcony, frantically struggling to reach through the curtains and slide the door open. When he reaches the balcony, he suddenly hears the blood-curdling scream of Ann and looks over at the transparent wall divider between the two balconies, which is marred by a bloody handprint. Harry clutches his face in horror. Ann’s scream rings out as Harry rushes back into his hotel room, closing the curtains behind him. He stumbles over to the wall, turns on the television, and clutches his head in distress. We see him clutching his face in alarm, before pulling the sheets up off the bed and getting under the covers. The newscaster on the television discusses President Nixon’s choice not to deliver the State of the Union address in person. Harry holds his head as the screen goes dark.

Later, we see a close-up of the television, which now plays an episode of The Flintstones. The camera pans across the room to the bed, where Harry lies. He awakens and looks around the room, confused. Getting up he turns off the television and goes out into the hall. Harry hesitates at room 773, eventually knocking tentatively. When no one answers, he crouches down to the handle, takes out a few small instruments and manages to unlock the door, breaking in to the room. Peering through, he finds the room completely clean. The camera pans to show a light on in the bathroom, as well as a neatly made bed. Harry walks in and examines the room. Outside it is dark. He looks at the bed, runs his fingers along the dresser, and looks out the window. Harry walks over to the bathroom and goes in.

We see the toilet in the bathroom, seemingly unused. Harry stares at it, approaches, and pulls back the shower curtain. The shower is empty and clean. Sitting beside the shower, he turns on the water slightly and examines the drain. It is completely clean. Standing outside the bathroom now, Harry looks back at the toilet, goes back in and lifts the toilet seat. When he flushes the toilet, the bowl abruptly fills with blood, which startles Harry. We hear the distorted beeps and buzzes of the recorded voices from earlier. The shot shifts to ground level, outside the bathroom, and we see Harry’s legs in front of the toilet as it fills with blood. Blood spills over the top of the toilet and all over the floor, as Harry watches in horror. We see the toilet bowl in close-up, filled with blood, before the screen goes black.

Later we see a building being knocked down in downtown San Francisco, as Harry runs around the corner. He runs towards the camera and gets on a bus. We then see him walking briskly into the office building where the director works. He walks directly past the front desk receptionist, telling the receptionist that he wants to see the director. The receptionist is flustered and assures Harry that the director is not in today. “I’m afraid you’ll have to leave now,” the receptionist says, as another man runs down the stairs and stands threateningly in front of Harry’s path. Harry looks at him, then makes like he is going to leave, but tries to forcibly move past the man on the stairs, but the man holds him back. Harry struggles as the two men bring him to the bottom of the stairs. He adjusts his tie and walks out.

Outside, Harry sees a navy blue car with the license plate number “C-1.” As he approaches the car and adjusts his glasses, he notices Ann in the window of the car, reading a newspaper. She is alive, and she looks out the window at him and he walks away. The camera then shifts to show a headline: “Auto Crash Kills Executive.” Harry picks up the newspaper and examines it. The director has apparently died in a car crash. Later, at the office, Ann and several businessmen come down the stairs into the lobby. They walk past a group of journalists who question a flustered Ann. “Do you suspect any foul play in the accident?” asks one. Another asks about whether or not the death of the director will lead to Ann having more control of the company. Ann resists answering their questions and makes her way towards the door, but first she spots Harry nearby, watching the hubbub. She stares at him.

The scene shifts to show Harry entering room 773 again. This time we see a murder site, as a portion of Ann and Mark’s taped conversation plays in voiceover. There are bloody handprints everywhere in the hotel room, and we see a man—the director—dead and wrapped in a body bag. The shot shifts back to Harry at the office building as he maintains eye contact with Ann, who continues to resist questioning by the journalists. Harry spies Mark among Ann’s colleagues at the office. The scene shifts back to the hotel room, where we see Ann embrace the director on the bed. As she pulls away from him, Martin covers him in a body bag to suffocate him, and Ann walks away. In voiceover, we hear Mark and Ann’s conversation: “He’s not hurting anyone," says Mark, to which Ann responds, “Neither are we.” It becomes clear that Ann and Mark were planning the director’s murder all along. We then see the photograph of Ann and the director that was on the director’s desk.

Martin Stett looks through the throngs of reporters and notices Harry across the lobby. We see a flash of the murder taking place at the hotel room, then a shot of Mark walking through the square with Ann, as we hear Mark’s taped voice in voiceover: “I can’t stand it. I can’t stand it anymore.” We then see the director, chased by Mark—who has just stabbed him—run onto the balcony towards Ann, who screams. The director presses a bloody hand up against the glass divider between the balconies. While Harry believed that the bloody image he saw was the bloody hand of Ann being killed by the director, it was in fact the bloody hand of the director himself, being murdered by Mark.

Martin Stett walks through the reporters towards Harry. Harry watches Mark walk past, and we see Ann and Mark in the park, as Ann asks, “Do you think we can do this?” Mark responds, “Later in the week, Sunday maybe.” Suddenly this conversation makes more sense: Sunday is not only the day they planned to meet at the hotel, but the day they planned to murder the director. We see the black-and-white photograph of Ann and Mark that Harry delivered to the director. The camera zooms in on Ann. We see the couple in the park as Mark tells Ann, “He’d kill us if he got the chance.” The shot then shifts to show the dead body of the director in a body bag lying on the hotel bed.

At home, Harry plays the saxophone along to a jazz record. Suddenly the telephone rings, and Harry turns down the recording and goes to answer it. It is silent on the other end of the line, and Harry hangs up tentatively and goes back to his saxophone. As he resumes playing, the camera stays on the phone before panning back to Harry as he plays. The telephone rings again, and Harry goes to answer it yet again as the record stops. When he answers it, he hears the sound of tape rewinding on the other end of the phone. We then hear Martin on the line say, “We know that you know Mr. Caul. For your own sake, don’t get involved any further. We’ll be listening to you.” The jazz music that Harry was just playing along to plays back to Harry over the phone from Martin’s end. It is clear that his apartment is bugged. Harry hangs up the telephone and sets to work trying to locate the recording device in the walls. He wanders around his own apartment. We then see him unscrewing a switch in the wall, then opening up a vent, then taking down his curtains, then examining his statuettes, pausing before examining a statuette of the Virgin Mary. Then he unscrews an overhead lamp from the ceiling. He takes his phone apart on his desk, unscrewing the receiver in search of a microphone. Later, he stares at his apartment, which he has torn apart, and looks over at the Virgin Mary statuette, which he has not yet checked. Harry becomes increasingly paranoid and eventually breaks the Mary statuette frantically, beating it against the shelves. When he finally opens the statuette, he finds nothing inside.

He strips the blinds off the windows and commences tearing apart his apartment, eventually peeling the wallpaper off the walls and pulling up the floorboards. We see Ann and Mark walking in the park from the start of the film. Harry sits in his gutted apartment playing the saxophone. Floorboards, dust, and debris litter the floor around him, as the camera pans slowly past the wreckage.


Here again, the photography reveals the inner turmoil of Harry Caul, and his obsession with the scandal he was charged with recording. Harry strikes a rather absurd pose, crouched beneath the counter in his bathroom, listening in on the next door conversation. While the viewer understands Harry’s plight—his deep fear of being implicated in violence or murder—the film seeks to make the viewer wonder if Harry is taking his sense of responsibility too far. As he listens in on the activity next door, the camera zooms in on his concerned expression, and we once again hear the conversation between Ann and Mark from the tape. From far away, Harry looks almost insane. As the camera zooms in, the viewer is brought in to Harry’s obsessive inner turmoil. Harry is tense and worried, terrified that what he has done will cause harm to two innocent people. When the shot frames only his face, Harry becomes overwhelmed and rips off the headphones, gritting his teeth. Later, we see his face in close-up as he worries about what to do. Then again, when Ann is seemingly murdered, Harry’s face is kept in a tight frame as he clutches his face with his hands, disturbed by the violence to which, he thinks his work has contributed. In the room, the shots jump around to different perspectives as Harry stumbles around the room, revealing how distressed he is. Later, when he examines the bathroom in room 773, the camera switches perspectives. As the toilet bowl fills with blood, we watch it bubble over the edge of the toilet from outside the bathroom. The camera splices together various perspectives, just as Harry's perception of the truth becomes fragmented.

Harry’s misperception is also revealed in the way that sound works in this final section of the movie. As the camera comes into a tight zoom on only Harry’s face while he listens from underneath the counter, we hear both the actual arguing taking place in room 773 as well as the voiceover of the tapes that Harry made. Reality and surveillance are conflated in Harry’s mind, and the conversation that Harry captured and the argument he now hears become superimposed on one another, almost indistinguishable from one another. This sonic conflation only makes Harry more worried and upset. While he listens to the argument between the director and Ann, he is haunted by the sound of Ann telling Mark, “I love you,” and it is at the moment he remembers this that it becomes too much to bear and he rips off the headphones. Then, when he goes out onto the balcony, Ann’s scream slices through the soundscape, a terrifying punctuation that rings on after her death, a tremulous scream in the soundtrack. Through the use of sound, Coppola illustrates Harry’s confused and agitated inner state, as well as the terrifying violence that surrounds him.

In this part of the film, Harry’s work as a surveillance expert is positioned alongside news coverage of the Nixon presidency, a presidency defined by its own high-profile instance of surveillance. The Conversation was made in 1974, just two years after the defining Watergate Scandal took place, in which President Nixon sought to cover up the existence of corruption in the government. While The Conversation was released two months before Nixon officially resigned, and Coppola had written the outline for the film before Nixon was even elected, the parallels between Coppola’s surveillance story and the scandal on the news are marked. As Harry Caul stumbles around his hotel room after hearing the apparent murder of Ann, a newscaster reads headlines pertaining to President Nixon. In 1974, when The Conversation was made, paranoia about surveillance, bugging, and incriminating tapes was in the air. By inserting reference to President Nixon in the moment in the film when Harry comes face-to-face with the horrifying consequences of his own surveillance work, Coppola connects his subject of choice—surveillance—to the issues of the times.

In the final portion of the movie, it begins to become unclear whether Harry’s perceptions have been accurate at all, as the viewer suddenly struggles to distinguish fact from fear and it becomes evident that Harry’s suspicions about Ann and Mark were wrong all along. While Harry believes he heard and saw one thing at the hotel, he comes to realize, once he learns what happened to the director, that the couple whom he believed were at risk of being murdered were actually the murderers themselves. Harry’s initial story does not line up with what he finds when he leaves the hotel. When he rushes to the office, he finds that the director has died in a car crash, and that Ann has inherited the director’s wealth. She is not dead at all; in fact, she killed the director and framed his murder as a car accident. The disconnect between fact and Harry’s distressing visions at the hotel strike an eerie tone. While Harry has seemed like such a reliable protagonist—his perspective is the viewer’s perspective throughout—he seems to have suffered a huge lapse in this portion of the film. This throws the viewer's sense of reality into confusion too. Following Harry's perspective, have we too been seeing things differently from how they are?

Ironically enough, by becoming so consumed by paranoid delusion, Harry has only embroiled himself more in the confusing web of deceit, which creates even more reason to feel paranoid. Rather than save the day, he has incriminated himself and given powerful figures even more reason to keep a tight watch on him. Martin Stett warns Harry that they will be watching him, and that they know that he knows about the murder. The viewer knows that Harry’s greatest fear is being watched, so Martin’s warning strikes a particularly ironic and tragic tone. By the end of the film, we see that Harry’s over-investment in his work has only entangled him in a mess of corporate maleficence. His obsession and desire for justice has contributed to his devolution into madness, as fact and fiction have become nearly indistinguishable, the perceived victims have become the villains, and Harry realizes the cracks in his own theory. The procurement of evidence—Harry’s central task—ends up failing, as indeed, Harry is not a detective. Harry’s over-involvement in his work, his sense of guilt at having caused a murder in the past, and his inability to treat surveillance more objectively, become—just as Meredith and Bernie warned him—his ultimate downfall.