…virtueless

Election (1999) Dir. Alexander Payne

 

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This small town showcases a chain reaction of tragicomic events that might as well be an allegory of a human condition.

 

No matter the age, education, or social standing, people share similar ambitions and drives to achieve something greater in life. It all boils down to power. Those who have it use it and abuse it. Those who don’t strive to get it away from the others. There is a balance of power: some lose it so that others gain it. There can only be one person on top. Jim (Matthew Broderick) is a respectable and upstanding high school teacher. He holds the power, being an educator and morality defender. In a flick of a moment, he starts losing it to Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), an overly ambitious teenager, who sacrificed any social life whatsoever to make it in politics.

 

Hypocrisy runs deep. On the one hand, he is a role model for his students and a picture perfect husband. On the other, he is bored with his marriage, envious of Tracy’s successes, and lusts after his friend’s wife. The stereotypical repressed small town sexuality is all over the place. Jim’s friend, also a respectable husband and teacher, gets involved in a love affair with none other than Tracy herself (it makes us sneer when they talk about love). Then, there’s Jim, who fails in impregnating his wife, perhaps because his mind is always somewhere else, mostly wandering to the fantasies about  the friend’s wife.

 

The core of the story is the election for a student’s advisor, which exemplifies the mechanisms behind every election. The perfect candidate, Tracy, with her promises, wide smiles, and posters is a cover-up for remorseless lust for power. Her opponent (her antithesis) is Paul (Chris Klein), a good guy, whose moral code strikes as strangely naïve. Interestingly, she, the villain, is clearly very intelligent, cunning, and well educated, whereas he, the positive character, is not the sharpest pencil in the drawer, a stereotypical jock. There is a price of success. People with power lack moral fiber. How then is a loser defined? A loser is a person who shifts from being the moral code abiding citizen to depraved pervert: Jim goes from hero to zero, from a husband and educator to a jobless and homeless cheater. Fear not, he still manages to make it in New York City. You can always start all over again in America. When we see him again in New York, in his new job, with his new girlfriend, it seems like an excuse for us to see what happened to Tracy. One day he notices her in the street. We witness her rise to power up the political ladder, being one of close employees to a Senator. The last image: her unmistakably cunning, two-faced smile.

 

What is the lesson? The message? That you cannot have both the power and the moral standards? That only through determination can you achieve something? Or, perhaps, that you should never trust a woman? Take your pick.

 

Long days, pleasant nights,

 

Veronica Bazydlo

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