3 Movie Remedies For Your Election Anxiety

3 Movie Remedies For Your Election Anxiety

Dept. of Political Fantasies


It’s morning in America and the Presidential Election remains too close to call. As I write this, there are still absentee ballots being counted in the battleground states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Georgia. We have no idea who the next president is going to be. There is no clear winner yet, and both Donald Trump and Joe Biden still have viable paths to victory. Until then, however, America and the rest of the world will just have to be patient. (The last time there was this kind of uncertainty in an election was back in 2000 and God knows we got a pretty good movie out of that.)

We know that we have to wait, we know that we need to let the process run its course, so that every vote can be counted, and every lawsuit that needs to be filed can be filed. But despite knowing all of that, there is nevertheless a prevailing sense of anxiety.

For a lot of Americans, it stems from having to endure another four years of Donald Trump, and dealing with the reality of having elected an archetypal demagogue, not once, but again. The first time could be explained away as an unfortunate accident. But to do it twice would be a decisive moment in their history. For the rest of us, we’re worried sick about having to navigate a world in which U.S. power and influence is once again reduced to something transactional by a man who believes in nothing but himself. Which is precisely the kind of instability and unpredictability that we don’t need in the face of a hideous pandemic.

Listen, I know you’re going to be spending the rest of your week doom-scrolling. I feel you. But why not take a break from reality and watch these three movies instead. I think they might help restore your faith in the idea of America. (Even if it’s all just an elaborate fantasy.)

Yes, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is an obvious choice. But no one said that “surprise” was a necessary criteria for this list. Besides, you’d be amazed at how many people haven’t actually seen it.

Watching Jimmy Stewart alone is worth the price of admission. He shines as the titular Mr. Smith, a wide-eyed and quixotic junior senator, who runs up against the Washington machine and risks losing everything. Even his faith in democracy.

This dramedy (from a time long before they had coined the word “dramedy”) is a work that is as prescient and pertinent as it was back in 1939. In fact, Frank Capra’s cautionary tale about the cost of indifference in politics, about one man’s fight against the system, is probably more relevant today than ever before. Especially in the face of immense political corruption and the suffocating power of social media.

Capra walks a fine line here. His view on Washington and politics is cynical, but his faith in humanity is absolute. He shows us what absolute power looks like and then proceeds to dismantle it through idealism and hope. It is human. It is timeless. It is punchy and patriotic. Can you think of a better counter to our current condition?

3 Movie Remedies For Your Election Anxiety

Dave (Kevin Kline) is a genuinely nice guy who just happens to look exactly like the President of the United States (also Kevin Kline, duh). When the president sneaks away from some hanky-panky with his mistress, Dave is hired by The White House to act as a stand-in. Then tragedy strikes, the president has a stroke while in flagrante delicto, and poor Dave has to fill in on a more permanent basis. He knows it’s wrong, but allows himself to be persuaded into the rouse.

It’s an age-old story. A well intentioned ordinary fellow, the very definition of a good guy, who gets unexpectedly thrust into an extraordinary situation, rises to the occasion, and subverts the expectations of everyone around him. Ivan Reitman takes this tried and tested concept and brings a genuinely fresh perspective. This is a movie that could have been incredibly predictable, but is saved by great performances (from Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, and Frank Langella) and some sly and skilful satire.

If there is a moral here it is this. The only thing we need to solve the problems of our world are leaders who mean well and act sensibly. Now, I can see how some of you might roll your eyes at the simplistic, even reductive, nature of such an argument. But watch this movie and then ask yourself why good will and compassion are so hard to come by in politics?

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3 Movie Remedies For Your Election Anxiety

Rob Reiner and Aaron Sorkin team up for the second time (their first collaboration was for A Few Good Men) to bring us a political fantasy in which a widowed U.S. president (Michael Douglas) falls in love with an environmental lobbyist (Annette Bening) and has to face the disparagement and disapproval of his political opponents.

3 Movie Remedies For Your Election Anxiety

The American President is all snappy, intelligent dialogue (it is Aaron Sorkin after all) meets some good old fashioned romance (it is Rob Reiner after all). But besides being a delightful romantic comedy, it is also a movie that doesn’t shy away from the issues. (A theme that Sorkin would obviously expound on later in The West Wing.) This is a movie that doesn’t just employ politics and the presidency as a convenient setting for love story. This is a movie that isn’t afraid to have a point of view.

It’ll make you laugh. It’ll fill you with inspiration. It’ll leave your throat thick. It’ll remind you that there was once a time when the world looked upon the office of the president with affection.

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

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