Caesar was told, “Beware the ides of March” and that is the same thing that Presidential candidate Mike Morris has to worry about in the film by the same name. Luckily for him the Machiavellian machinations he is facing are not looking to kill him, just his political career.
This film is well acted. Clooney, Gosling, Hoffman and Giamatti are all in fine form. Clooney does a great job directing an engaging and interesting story about the inner-workings of a 21st century campaign. Never for a moment does one think that this is not very close to the reality of the political machine in today’s world.
Now, since this is a Clooney picture, the political leanings are firmly ensconced in the left. Mike Morris is the quintessential Democratic candidate. He rails against the right, our dependance on oil, military intervention and dodges questions on his religious beliefs. He says, “I’m not a Christian. I’m not an Atheist. I’m not Jewish. I’m not Muslim. My religion, what I believe in is called the Constitution of United States of America.” He is a man who believes in and worships our law and governmental system. Apparently socialized democracy has within itself the ability to save all mankind from it’s problems.
It is here that the movie’s message and logic really fall apart. If one’s religion is only the law and what is lawful, there is a lot that you can do and get away with that most people would think are wrong, or at least frown upon. Morris says that he wants to run his campaign on the up and up; no back-door deals or favor swapping. And yet, when it comes down to the moment of truth, for his character to show, he reveals he is no better than the ones that he preaches against. He is willing to lie, cheat, make deals and sell cabinet seats like all the rest.
A classic democratic candidate problem seems to be not sleeping with the interns. In fact this is even pointed out to Morris by one of his main aids Stephen Meyers. He says, “You can lie, you can cheat, you can start a war, you can bankrupt the country, but you can’t f*** the interns. They get you for that.” Stephen has been cleaning up after Morris; taking the DNC chairman’s daughter, who has been working on the campaign and sleeping with Morris, to get an abortion. It has to be undercover because of what it could do to the campaign, but also, her family is Catholic. The political games lead to the suicide of the young girl and a cover up by the campaign. Apparently believing you can help the country as president gives you a license to break the law that you worship.
Stephen is the other major character that you follow in the film. His is the most interesting one as well. He starts out the film as a novice and idealist and as the the story unfolds his decent into the 4th ring of political hell is complete. He becomes that which he hates for the power that he craves and the last scene, his vacant expression tells you everything; he has become another soulless minion, willing to sellout for power.
In the end, the film does a great job illustrating the problems with modern political life in America. Everyone is willing to trade their souls for the power to lead, thinking, “If I can just make it to the presidency, I can make a difference”. What they fail to realize is that by cashing in their integrity and character for power they have lost the ability to make that difference. There is nothing to separate them from the people that they are working so desperately to replace. It also shows the deficiency of having only the law and Constitution as your religion; they are not sufficient as guidelines for life. These two things are neither transcendent enough nor do they have the foundation needed to provide a firm foundation for any kind of morality . Matt Chandler diagnoses the problem in his book, The Explicit Gospel,
Religion practiced apart from faith in Christ is called self-righteousness in the Bible, and not even the perfecters of self-righteousness themselves, the Pharisees, qualified for God’s kingdom. Faithless religion is vanity. No matter how many people it practically helps, no matter how good it makes you feel, religious effort not rooted in the gospel is rooted in self-justifying self-worth. This is meaningless.
This movie seems to be echoing what the preacher in Ecclesiastes says at the beginning of his book,
What does man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
and hastens to the place where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
and goes around to the north;
around and around goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns.
All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they flow again.
All things are full of weariness;
a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
nor the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
(Ecclesiastes 1:3-9 ESV)
Without something bigger, it is all meaningless; all power, all work, all good, all that is out there is meaningless and in the end, it’s been done before so you’re not even original. Tolkien says, “Certainly there was Eden on this very unhappy earth. We all long for it, and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at it’s best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most humane, is soaked with the sense of ‘exile’.” So where is the hope in all of this? It is here,
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:18-25 ESV)
Tim Keller reminds us, “…no current political framework can fully convey the comprehensive Biblical vision of justice, and Christians should never identify too closely with a particular political party or philosophy”; our hope is not in political power or presidential candidates but in the coming King of Glory that all of creation is groaning for.Quotes: The Explicit Gospel – Matt Chandler this includes the Tolkien quote. Generous Justice – Timothy Keller ESV Bible