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Cinema in Focus: George Clooney’s ‘The Ides of March’ a Disturbing Masterpiece

Howard Dean the inspiration for this behind-the-scenes look into the world of a political campaign

3 Stars — Disturbing

As director, writer and producer of The Ides of March, George Clooney creates a disturbing masterpiece. With an appreciation for how a person’s ideals can be lost in the machinations of politics, Clooney presents a candidate for president who speaks of lofty and worthy goals but whose own life is a dark shadow of such enlightenment.

Based on the play Farragut North by Beau Willimon, it is an embellished telling of the 2004 Democratic primary campaign of Howard Dean.

Collaborating with Clooney and Willimon is screenwriter Grant Heslov (Good Night, and Good Luck), and together they create a powerful juxtaposition between what presidential candidate Gov. Mike Morris (Clooney) says and how he lives.

The person who discovers this and for whom the experience is emotionally and morally devastating is Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling). Although the governor claims to be an atheist who believes only in the Constitution of the United States, it is clear that Myers believes him to be honest and faithful, living out his integrity and beliefs. When he discovers that the governor’s speeches proclaim such values but he does not live them, Myers becomes disillusioned.

However, it is not only Myers’ experience with the candidate that destroys his innocence, it is also his treatment by his boss, campaign manager Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and the campaign manager of the other candidate, Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti). Both school him in the art of destroying lives to win an election. Such experiences leave Myers only a vacuous shell of his former hopeful and confident self.

Although it would be easy to take a shot at the politicians in the film as being Democrats and imply that the Republicans do not live duplicitous lives, the truth of history is that human beings often preach a far better ideal than what they are able or willing to live. History also shows how the powerless, as seen by the intern Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood), are the ones who suffer the most at the hands of such powerful users of people.

Naming the film after the murder of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C. by a group of senators including his supposedly loyal friend Marcus Junius Brutus, The Ides of March also refers to the defining Ohio primary that is held in March and often decides the presidential candidates for the nation.

That the democratic process could be so easily manipulated by hypocritical politicians, ambitious journalists, unscrupulous campaign managers and a duped electorate is the unnerving message of this film. It is desperately hoped that this film depicts a fictional portrait of those who are our leaders and those who are working to get our leaders elected, but it is hard to remain hopeful by the conclusion of this masterful dissection of the political process. However, that very dissection shows with artistic clarity what happens when people lack personal morality, integrity and faith. When there is nothing higher than our own ambition to which we are accountable, this film powerfully presents what happens to us all.

Discussion:

» Have you ever worked on a campaign or known a politician personally? What did you discover to be true about those who lead our cities, states and nation? Do you think this film gives an accurate depiction of politics in this country? Why? Do you think that this film does the nation harm or good? Why?

» The fact that leaders often feel as though the laws of morality do not apply to them is a problem in church and state. What do you think happens to a person that causes them to come to that conclusion? Is it a result of the power and prestige or because they have increased opportunities? Do you believe Molly would have offered herself to an unknown person like she did the governor?

» The governor in this film did not claim to be a Christian, a Jew or a Muslim. Do you believe that he should still be held to the morals of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures of honesty, integrity, faithfulness and humility? Why or why not?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

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