“The Ides of March” (2011). Cast: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Ward, Marissa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright, Max Minghella, Jennifer Ehle, Gregory Itzin, Michael Mantell. Director: George Clooney. Screenplay: George Clooney, Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon. Play: Farragut North, by Beau Willimon. http://idesofmarch-movie.com
The American political arena is one of those institutions that everyone knows is seriously in need of reform. And every time a fresh face emerges on the horizon, that promise gets trotted out to win over voters, whose hopes only get dashed when the promises fail to materialize. So anyone looking for an explanation as to why that happens so routinely should be sure to see the new political drama, “The Ides of March.” You just might come away with some eye-opening answers.
In a fictional present-day presidential race (said to be loosely based on the events of the 2004 election), the bidding for the Democratic Party’s nomination rests on the results of the Ohio primary. The primary is essentially a two-horse race between Gov. Mike Morris of Pennsylvania (George Clooney), an outspoken progressive, and Sen. Ted Pullman of Arkansas (Michael Mantell), a conservative who appeals to both moderate Democrats and disgruntled Republicans. Morris, however, has an opportunity to lock up the nomination with a win, especially if that victory helps him secure the endorsement of one-time rival Sen. Thompson of Ohio (Jeffrey Wright), a former candidate whose unsuccessful campaign left him with enough pledged delegates to play power broker in the race’s eventual outcome.
Managing Morris’s campaign is veteran political consultant Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), aided by his hot-shot assistant, Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), from whose perspective much of the story is told. Stephen is a fast-rising star in the political world, one who’s highly effective at what he does and who’s valiantly attempting to breathe some ethical fresh air into the election process. He’s being eyed by many, including the competition’s campaign manager, Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), who openly declares that he’d like to lure the brash young buck into the Pullman camp. Stephen also fast becomes the romantic interest of an attractive young Morris campaign worker, Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Ward), whose father, Jack (Gregory Itzin), is Democratic National Committee chairman.
Given these successes, Stephen would appear to be in an enviable position on many fronts. But, when ambition (both his and others’) gets thrown into the mix, the possibility of everything unraveling looms large unless some difficult choices and unpalatable compromises are made. And, when word of everything teeters on the brink of being exposed by go-getter political reporter Ida Horowicz (Marissa Tomei), the ante gets upped even further.
How will everything shake out? Will virtues be compromised in the process? And, perhaps most importantly, will real reform be allowed to take place, or will everything continue as “politics as usual” (and in the tritest sense of the expression at that)?
From the foregoing, it’s obvious that choice, one of the key components in the conscious creation process, plays a central role in how events unfold in this film. But it’s more than just some abstract philosophical notion here; it’s a real, practical consideration, one that shows just how dependent the physical is on the metaphysical when it comes to what ultimately manifests in our everyday reality. It even surfaces overtly in the dialogue in several scenes, especially in one particularly heated exchange between Stephen and Paul, where the protagonist is challenged on the choices he makes regarding the ethical principles he claims to so zealously advocate. Talk is indeed cheap, but action often comes at a tremendous price, one that can inflate easily when the stakes are high—and when ill-advised choices unduly complicate matters.
Given the ideological and ethical nature of the issues involved in this narrative, not to mention the widespread impact they potentially carry for a national constituency, the importance of the characters’ choices can’t be emphasized enough. That’s particularly true in the context of the social, economic and political reform that the candidates debate in the course of campaigning. Morris and Stephen seem genuinely committed to bringing about meaningful change in the national landscape, and their beliefs and intents—the drivers in conscious creation practice—would genuinely appear to support that.
However, considering the nature of the process through which a presidential candidacy is birthed, including the one in this film, it’s also easy to see how ideological and ethical concerns become expendable casualties when political expediency is on the line. It’s a process that forges plenty of strange bedfellow relationships and often leads to all sorts of unsavory compromises. And the depiction of that process here helps to illustrate why real reform rarely happens: no matter how strongly and sincerely a candidate might believe in change, it can’t materialize when it gestates in an environment that patently discourages it. The two influences cancel each other out, leaving voters with the status quo from election to election to election, despite promises in advance to the contrary.
From a metaphysical standpoint, though, none of this should really come as a surprise. Political considerations aside, as conscious creation practitioners know, contradiction is one of three factors (along with fear and/or doubt) that prevents the materialization process from happening. It involves sending mixed signals to our divine collaborator, which is unable to carry out its part of the process due to the conflicting nature of its instructions. It’s like asking for the manifestation of something that’s simultaneously all red and all green, a physical impossibility in our reality given the belief structure upon which our existence is based. So is it any wonder, then, that the same sort of thing happens in politics, where candidates outwardly profess to support reform while clandestinely engaging in acts of shady dealing, horse-trading and cover-up?
While many of us may have long sensed the existence of this conflict of intentions in the political arena, its presence has never been showcased as demonstrably as it is here, and the filmmakers are to be applauded for having the vision to make this apparent in such a convincing way. Even the picture’s title, a reference to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (and, ironically, the date of the election in the film), further emphasizes this conflict by drawing attention to the underlying thread that links the two, the notion of betrayal. Not only is betrayal a central theme of the Bard’s classic and the movie’s narrative, but it’s also an indignity that all of us suffer at the hands of politicians who don’t keep their word. But then, given the prevailing nature of the environment in which most politicians currently operate, it’s virtually impossible for them to act otherwise considering the beliefs and intentions that have gone into creating that arena. So, to that end, perhaps the filmmakers’ efforts at enlightening us about this will plant a seed in our minds that helps to bring about real change going forward. It’s a notion that’s left open for speculation as the movie plays out, and we can only hope that the examples set here will help us to make the right choices. After all, as conscious creators know, in no matter what area of endeavor we engage, we ultimately get what we concentrate on.
Some have contended that “The Ides of March” is little more than another example of liberal-minded Hollywood propaganda, and, given the progressive political viewpoints of Morris’s character, a credible argument could be made for that case. However, those who have criticized the picture by focusing on this aspect of it are missing the larger point, which, as discussed above, has more to do with the political process than with any specific initiatives or proposals raised through it. And, if anyone in the voting public thinks the process is working just fine as it is now, they need to take a closer look; They just might find they’re not being served by it either. All of which brings us back to the issue of the choices we make and the role they play in formulating the beliefs and intents that bring everything into being in the first place. Again, we get what we concentrate upon.
“The Ides of March” is definitely a film that grows on you. It’s rather slow to develop in the first 30 minutes, with writing that seems to meander a lot, plodding along almost aimlessly. The story line initially focuses heavily on the characters’ personal relationships, which, I must confess, made me wonder what they had to do with a movie supposedly about politics. However, once the personal relationship issues are established, they work their way into the political narrative, and the story takes off from there. If you can manage to wait out the first half-hour, you’ll be rewarded with an engaging, thoughtful picture that features one of the best ensemble casts I’ve seen in ages, all of whom are truly worthy contenders come awards season (though pay particular attention to Gosling, Giamatti and Hoffman).
In an age with the rise of grass-roots social movements like Occupy Wall Street, the timing of a film like this couldn’t be more apropos. It clearly shows where the problem is—with a process that’s in need of repair—and one that needs to be fixed before any well-intentioned reformer can accomplish anything through it. Bringing about such change starts with us, the voters, by rewriting our beliefs and intents about what we expect out of the process and not just about our hopes for those who become actively involved in it. Let’s hope this picture starts a dialogue aimed at helping to bring about that outcome.
Copyright © 2011, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.