Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Ides of March - Clooney's Dark, Twisted, Liberal Fantasy

Democrats are showing buyer's remorse over Barack Obama. He had convinced many on the left that he would issue in a new era of bonafide liberalism, and they've been disappointed at what he's been able to accomplish. Of course, he has "accomplished" plenty, the left just doesn't yet realize the dire consequences that follow from a leftist president instituting leftists policies and instead would blame the undeniable, utter failure of this administration on someone, or something, else. The hard left rationalizes our current situation in various ways; blaming the mess left by Bush, blaming Republican and Tea Party obstructionism, blaming Obama's personality and political ineptitude, or claiming that Obama just isn't far-left enough and has followed in Bush's footsteps in the wrong ways (war on terror, executive power type stuff).

George Clooney is so upset with how things have turned out, he seems to want to turn the clock back to 2008 and fantasize a more desirable outcome. The Ides of March, directed by Clooney, follows a democratic primary campaign in which Clooney's charater Mike Morris is a far-left governor fighting against a more moderate democrat for the presidential nomination of the Democratic party. Flanked by two campaign managers played by Ryan Gosling (the young, idealistic one) and Phillip Seymour Hoffman (the experienced, pragmatic one), Morris' campaign faces an uphill battle as the opponent seems to have the upper hand in the polls. Just like in 2008, coming off of an unpopular Republican administration and especially after McCain got the nomination, "the Republicans have [nothing]" (though he uses a vulgar euphemism for 'nothing'). In Clooney's mind the Republicans are, and should be, reduced to non-entities and serious political discussion can only take place between liberals and hardcore liberals -- and the hardcore should be victorious.

Lest the comparisons to the climate of 2008 seem strained, Clooney drives the point home with campaign posters of him that are obviously derivative of the infamous Shepard Fairey Obama "Hope" poster, only with "Believe" replacing "Hope".

Speaking of "believe", in the fantasy-land that Clooney has constructed, this hard-left, viable Democratic presidential candidate is also an atheist (though he uses some fancy rhetoric to obscure the fact). So not only is Clooney re-imagining the 2008 election cycle, he's re-imagining the dynamics of America, since in reality an atheist presidential candidate is still a non-starter for the American electorate.

It would be slightly unfair to read the film solely or primarily as a political treatise. It isn't, but being familiar with Clooney's ideology, it's hard to think the pulpit he gives to his character isn't intended to double as his own pulpit. Especially since the rhetoric syncs perfectly with anything he's ever had to say about political topics. The speeches he gives in the film, which I have to imagine he approves of, are not just bad but breathtakingly asinine. Take the gem about "You want to know how to end Islamic terrorism? Their product [oil]: just stop needing it." Cue the wild adulation of the crowd. Mandatory lobotomies must have been a pre-requisite for acquiring tickets to the rally.

Spoilers are contained within this paragraph, so be advised. Skip ahead to the next paragraph now, if you wish to avoid them. The climax of Clooney's wet dream political scenario is almost hysterical. Not only does he cast himself in the role of a hard-left, atheist, viable presidential candidate, and stage various scenes with himself speaking asinine political rhetoric to receptive crowds dousing him with manic applause, but it turns out his character sleeps with interns, impregnates one, and when she commits suicide after aborting his baby, he does what he can to hide what happened from the press. Clooney knows the lusts of the flesh are irresistible to "great" Alpha males in positions of power, he just wants some of them (those who he agrees with) to be able to get away with it.

Of course, he wouldn't cop to this. Obviously if confronted with these accusations he would claim that the character has flaws, and isn't intended to be some idealized representation of a politician. Not to mention that Clooney's character really isn't the main character of the film, Gosling's is. Still, given Clooney's politics, it's hard to see Morris' character arc as anything other than a ham-handed attempt to depict what he desires in a politician, and what outcomes he desires in elections. Namely, he wants to see the lunatic left find a way to navigate the pitfalls and mine fields of the dull-witted American electorate, eke their way into office, and be able to "affect real change" [i.e. wreak havoc]. Even if it means "getting into the mud with the Elephants" as Paul Giamatti's Tom Duffy puts it.

This aspect of the script is a reiteration of the idiotic trope from the hard-left that the Democratic establishment is just too weak, too politically daft, too unorganized, and don't play dirty political games enough, while the Republicans know all the tricks of the trade.

As I said, the main narrative element is actually a moral dilemma set up for Ryan Gosling's character. They set him up as a young, bright-eyed, principled and highly skillful "true believer" in what Morris stands for. As a guy who has to believe in the cause he's fighting for if he's going to support it, and who won't resort to dirty tricks. It seems to me the point would be to set up the tension for that moment that will come, when the temptation to "go dirty" will arise, as it inevitably will. The problem is, when the moment comes, Gosling's character doesn't struggle. He slides right into the unprincipled, pragmatic, do-what-it-takes-to-win role without even the slightest bit of hesitation. Perhaps there's some moral about just how fine of a line there is between idealism and pragmatism, or how magnetic the Will to Power is. If so, it wasn't made very well, and the film just fizzles to conclusion in a sublimely pointless fashion.

Despite a magnificent cast, and strong performances from them, The Ides of March is hamstrung by an offensive, imbecilic ideology that pervades the proceedings, and character work that falls flat. If you would like a glimpse into the mind of the radical left and the way they would like the world of politics to function, you should give this a watch. It's a bit infuriating, but I have a masochistic streak and I like having my ire raised, so I did get some perverse enjoyment from the film despite its massive deficiencies. 

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