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Movie Discussion Resource

The Ides of March

Published / by Sandy

Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.

Genre: Political drama  Rating: M (Adult themes and frequent coarse language)
Length: 101 minutes
Starring: George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti.
Director: George Clooney (his fourth film as director)
An adaptation of the play “Farragut North” (Beau Willimon, 2008).

Brief synopsis
PostThe context is a fictional Democratic primary in Ohio and the film focuses on electoral process and personal ethics. It draws on some of the hopefulness of Obama‘s 2008 campaign and some of the scandals involving Bill Clinton. Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) is the Junior Campaign Manager for Mike Morris (George Clooney), Governor of Pennsylvania and a Democratic presidential candidate, competing against Arkansas Senator Ted Pullman. This film is about the political process, even when candidates are on the same side. The candidates are campaigning in Ohio. A win for Morris would all but guarantee him the nomination; a win for Pullman would give him vital momentum. Both campaigns are also attempting to enlist the endorsement of North Carolina Senator Thompson. The movie traces the experiences of the Junior Campaign Manager, a “true believer” who believes Morris is the only one who can make a positive difference to the future of the country. He gets a crash course on dirty politics during his stint on the campaign trail where everyone gets played‘. Brilliantly written and acted, although some may wonder what more it contributes to in the portfolio of political movies (Wag the Dog, W., The Candidate etc as well as episodes of the West Wing).
Full synopsis here, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1124035/synopsis.
Wikipaedia synopsis here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ides_of_March_%28film%29.

Questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework for you to discuss the movie, such as:

  • What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
  • What themes are explored?
  • What assumptions were embedded in the story?
  • What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
  • Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
  • What biblical or theological themes or characters come to mind that engage with the story?

The following provides some particular aspects of the movie that could be explored. Feel free to use these ideas as a catalyst for further discussion and reflection.

Political life
Under-handed backstabbing, hypocrisy, intrigue, and blackmail. Are these a ‘given’, an inevitable part of the political landscape? Is personal integrity and honesty believable in the political realm? Is charm a commodity cultivated for votes and opinion polls? Is politics more than likely to corrupt or ‘wake up’ idealistic wide eyed visionaries and dreamers? How much is compromise part and parcel of the political landscape, in order to achieve the best (or most expedient) outcome? How might those who are not ‘political animals’ influence the process? Who are the real movers and shakers in politics and what can we believe?

And what‘s the role of the media in the whole process, and who‘s really using who? Ida (Marisa Tomei) is a shamelessly opportunistic journalist in getting the scoop for NY Times stories. When is a friend a friend in the political world?

The poster for the movie has a man‘s face shown half hidden behind the folded page of a Time Magazine. It is a composite image of the two main characters in the film — Clooney the candidate and Gosling the campaign manager, conveying an underlying theme of Machiavellian deceit and betrayal. Is such behaviour inevitable in politics — or, more particularly, for those seeking leadership roles?

How do you reflect on the statement, ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely’?

While some people will be upset by the number of times f**k is used in the film, is this simply indicative of the ‘straight talking’ that takes place behind all the charm of candidate and the public campaign?

Biblical themes
Jesus clashed often with the political and religious leaders of the day, both the Roman occupiers as well as the Jewish leaders. In the context of the day, these were public stoushes, with arguments put to Jesus that were designed to trip him up. There was shaming (a political tool of the day), intrigue, betrayal, denial. Was crucifixion the inevitable outcome?

Making a difference
To what extent does power corrupt people in leadership generally? What are your own experiences? What alternatives have you experienced or know about?

References to the Ides of March
‘Ides’ means “the middle of”. The ”Ides of March” doesn‘t take place in the month of March, though. It is a reference to historical events eg Julius Caesar was assassinated on “the ide of march”. The ide of March is also mentioned in one of Shakespeare‘s plays dealing with Caesar‘s assassination. The soon-to-be-assassinated Julius Caesar was warned by a soothsayer to “beware the Ides of March.” It could also suggest the assassination of good moral character and ideals in the harsh and ruthless political arena where no one person is allowed to dominate. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ides_of_March.

© Rev Sandy Boyce 6th December 2011 Pilgrim Uniting Church, www.pilgrim.org.au
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