Why this classic movie is still a cautionary tale
The 1970s were a historic decade in the development of American history, and Hollywood was also going through major changes. The new wave of young directors working with studio budgets has led to an increase in experimental and ambitious films that tackle today’s social climate. movies like The parallax view and The conversation addressed the anxieties felt by Americans in the aftermath of Watergate, and Revelation now addressed the burning issue of the Vietnam War. Moviegoers could expect movies that challenged their views and embodied what the chaotic decade looked like.
Many of those historic political films from the 70s still function as time capsules worth rediscovering as a “slice of life” window into a different generation. However, Michael RitchieThe 1972 election film The candidate is more than just a history lesson. It’s a grim warning about the nature of political campaigning that still resonates to this day, and his premonitions about the rise of celebrity candidacies are terrifyingly predictive. Some older films feature disconnected politics, but fifty years after its first theatrical release, The candidate perfect for today.
One of the main reasons is Robert RedfordBill McKay’s performance as the titular “candidate” himself. Redford has become even more prominent in American film culture over the past five decades, after winning an Oscar for his directorial debut. ordinary people, co-founded the Sundance Film Festival and starred in at least a dozen classic films. Redford is now associated with the classic idealized American leader, a voice of reason and honestly whom the viewer can trust amid Hollywood cynicism. Seeing him in this difficult and pessimistic film about the state of the country is more devastating considering all the good graces he is associated with now.
Redford’s character, McKay, is seemingly tailor-made for the office. He is young, charismatic, passionate and great with a crowd; this was during the redford idol days Bare feet in the park and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. McKay is also humble and he realizes that he is endowed with significant advantages thanks to his father, former Governor of California John J. McKay (Melvin Douglas). Instead of seeking personal glory, McKay decides to pursue the issues that really matter to him.
However, he soon receives an offer he couldn’t pass up. Democratic election pundit Marvin Lucas (Peter Boyle) is looking for a young candidate who could challenge incumbent California Republican Senator Crocker Jarmon (Don Porter). Jarmon is popular among voters, and none of the leading Democratic candidates want to risk challenging him in the next election cycle. There is little hope for a Democratic victory. Lucas convinces McKay that he wouldn’t campaign just for himself; the entire future of the California Democratic Party hangs in the balance.
Of course, it’s a facade and Lucas doesn’t believe McKay can actually win. All he needs is to not humiliate the group, so they can focus on other races. McKay doesn’t know it, but he’s intrigued by Lucas’ promise that he can say “whatever he wants” during the election cycle. He is free to speak out on issues that concern him, and McKay campaigns on a platform of environmental, economic and social reform. He promises that state infrastructure will be overhauled, race relations will improve, voting rights will be increased, and bureaucratic influence will be reduced in the pursuit of cleaner and more honest government.
Much to everyone’s chagrin, pure honesty is exactly what voters are looking for. McKay becomes surprisingly popular and he is pushed into the hot seat when he actually has to defend his platform. The cult of personality that The candidate watch is painfully faithful to today’s political landscape. McKay uses new media campaign tactics to appeal to young voters and becomes more of a charismatic celebrity than a genuine candidate. The speed at which his latest activities have spread into media coverage is eerily prescient of the age of social media.
What’s more disturbing is that McKay’s actual message diminishes as he continues. His promises are sensationalized, but as he gets closer to victory, Lucas and the Democratic leadership push him to be more moderate. Surely, if he’s already the only option among those who are already under tension, he could also stand up to bring in those who are on the fence? He begins to focus less on maintaining his values and the issues that interest him. McKay becomes the most “eligible” version of himself. He’s inexperienced, but realizes throughout the debate process that it doesn’t matter to voters.
The candidate is not the only film about the dehumanization of the electoral process; movies such as Bob Roberts, In the Loop, The Manchurian Candidate, Bulworth, Election, and countless others have explored the campaign trail in various ways. However, the cautionary tale of The candidate is harder because McKay is actually a likeable character. You want to believe in his intentions, and you’re forced to watch this idealistic man sacrifice himself to the process. Watching an idol like Redford grounded in reality is heartbreaking.
The final moments of the film show the ramifications of the cycle. McKay gets his victory and he is immediately surrounded by celebrations, media coverage and congratulatory speeches. When he steals a moment alone in his new office, McKay remains silent. The realization that he doesn’t have a clue how to fulfill his campaign promises sets in, and he asks Lucas “so what do we do now?” He is interrupted once again by reporters; Lucas never gives her an answer, and viewers find themselves asking the same questions.
Furthermore, The candidate shows that at the end of the cycle, McKay does not even recognize the politician he has become. It was both a warning about the direction politics was headed and a heartbreaking conclusion to his character arc. The fact that things haven’t changed much in the five decades since The candidateThe output of is both impressive and discouraging.
The Sundance Kid hangs up his hat and calls it a day — at least when it comes to being on camera.
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