Posts Tagged ‘Election’

(Part 19 of An Ongoing Series)


Any one can get angry — that is easy… but to do this to the right person, to the right extent, at the right time, with the right motive, and in the right way, that is not for every one, nor is it easy.

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

…you can’t interfere with destiny, that’s why it’s destiny. And if you try to interfere, the same thing’s just going to happen anyway, and you’ll just suffer.

Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), Election

Tammy Metzler’s right: High School elections are basically a bunch of charades and empty promises made primarily for the sake of the winners’ college transcripts.

I say this as a former student government officer who was much less an officer than a glorified event planner.  I harbored no illusions of “making a difference;” I simply enjoyed the power and privilege of writing smart-ass Homecoming skits and organizing Battles Of The Bands.  (And OK, fine, listing those accomplishments on my college transcript.  Hate the game, not the player.)  I dropped all interest in “governing” during my first semester of film school, in the autumn of that magical year of 1999, when I decided my time might be better-spent drinking more booze, smoking more pot, and watching more movies.

Since then I’ve remained an outsider to the whole governance thing.  From here, Election‘s satire- as it applies to Real World Politics rather than High School Politics- seems to have some fine points.  It often feels like most high-level politicians are either popular-but-toothless like Paul Metzler (Chris Klein), or brutally ambitious narcissists like Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), while rabble-rousers like Tammy Metzler typically end up shoved off to the margins or shut out of the process altogether.

But Election‘s satire isn’t its biggest hook for me.  What fascinates me is the timeless moral/ ethical dilemma of mostly-decent teacher Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick).  He’s wading through the fuzzy fog of Tracy’s affair with his friend-and-colleague, with plenty of reason to believe she may not be the totally blameless victim that society’s laws say she is.  All Jim wants to do is what he believes is right: teach Tracy a lesson in humility while also protecting his beloved school- maybe even the world at large- from the glittery steamroller of her ego.  Naturally, he’s got his work cut out for him.

So, how morally and/or ethically right was Jim in trying to rig the election?  Was he foolish in his attempt to thwart the unstoppable Tracy Flick?  Or was he brave?  Was he noble, or petty?  Was it worth the price?  Is he truly happier in the new life his actions lead him to, or just trying to convince himself he’s happier?  Is he better off, or more pathetic?  After multiple viewings, I have plenty of opinions on these questions, and about zero easy answers.

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Part 2 Of An Ongoing Series

There is truth, and there are lies. And art always tells the truth. Even when it’s lying.

John Malkovich as John Cusack as Craig Schwartz as John Malkovich, Being John Malkovich

John Cusack’s Craig Schwartz has plenty of sick desperation in his laugh during the first act of Being John Malkovich.  We hear it when he flirts with Catherine Keener’s Maxine, the out-of-his-league co-worker he wants to have an affair with.  She’ll rip his pathetic ass down like it’s her favorite hobby, and he’ll often respond with that sick, desperate, 1999 laughter.

It’s not just because Craig’s intimidated by Maxine.  It’s also because Craig’s a lot like so many other notable 1999 protagonists: dispirited, frustrated, adrift, unfulfilled.  (See also Fight Club, American Beauty, Office Space, The Matrix, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Election, the ensemble of Magnolia.)  Like his own puppet, he’s stuck in a “Dance of Despair and Disillusionment.”

Funny thing is, Craig’s the protagonist in the most humorous of all those other movies- maybe the most hilarious 1999 movie that isn’t South Park– and yet he suffers the most tragic fate.  And that sums up why, if I were forced to choose the best 1999 movie, Being John Malkovich would barely edge out Three Kings and Fight Club.  Being John Malkovich is so great it baffled me with its greatness the first time I saw it, and its greatness still baffles me to this day.

It’s the type of movie you’d think would spawn a decade’s worth of imitators, like Pulp Fiction or There’s Something About Mary.  Only it didn’t, really.  Its fine balance of surrealism and poignancy is so perfect, it’s like the world’s filmmakers simply stood back in awe of Being John Malkovich and were like, “We’re just gonna let Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze handle this shit from now on.”

If the movie has spearheaded one trend of the past few years, it’s the one where actors play comically unflattering caricatures of themselves.  (Jean-Claude Van Damme, Kirstie Alley, Matt LeBlanc, James Van Der Beek, half the people who’ve appeared on Curb Your Enthusiasm.)  Of course, none of those actors went nearly as far down the rabbit hole as John Horatio Malkovich.

Then again, maybe other filmmakers will eventually get around to imitating the rest of Malkovich once they’ve finally finished processing it.  There’s a galaxy of ideas in this movie, all zipping by at madcap speed, and a lot of those ideas really started to mushroom in the new millennium.  It’s not merely about “celebrity,” it’s about the desire to attain celebrity, the emptiness of celebrity, the misguided sense of entitlement we often feel we have over celebrities.  It’s not merely about the quest for immortality, it’s about how the quest for immortality is not necessarily a bad thing- although it can definitely be a very bad thing.  It’s not just about the search for identity, it’s about fucking identity until identity forgets what gender it used to be.

Most of all, though, Being John Malkovich is about Craig Schwartz, and how not to end up like him. That means doing your damnedest never to drive yourself crazy from unrequited love.  It’s very bad for the skin.

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