Tuesday, June 08, 2010
Swing Vote Movie Commentary
Bud Johnson(convincingly played by Kevin Costner), an ordinary, beer-swilling guy who's screw-up put him in the position of determining the free world's direction, suddenly realizes he's clueless ... thanks to his daughter Molly(played by bright young star Madeline Carroll). The world has ten days to pitch their causes and special interests, including the President of the United States(a Republican), and his opponent in the election(obviously, a Democrat), before Bud heads to the poll to cast his vote. Both candidates adopt him as their favorite good-ol'-boy and waffle their positions on the issues, based on Bud's clueless statements to the press, to try and placate him. When in the course of Bud's celebrity, Molly manages to arrange a Presidential debate with her dad as the moderator, his need to get informed about the issues penetrates his alcohol-fogged brain. Finally he settles down to read mail from all the needy people in the country. Of course, they tell a tale of woe about losing jobs and insurance and everything else one can lose, appealing to Bud to make it right with his selection of the next President of the United States. As if government can cure what ails society. As if the President of the United States can give everybody what they want. The night of the great debate—The Final Debate—arrives. Bud carries his bundle of notes gleaned from his brief study of issues, statistics and the folks' letters, to the moderator's desk. The dignified candidates walk onto the Great Stage at the county fairgrounds, sincerely shake hands and assume their posts at their respective podiums. Bud Johnson humbles himself before a national audience and his daughter by confessing his shortcomings, and explains his change of mind. "Tonight I am going to speak for people I have never met. These letters have touched me in a way that I did not think was possible." The first question from his mail bag says, "When you work hard and still can't take care of your family's needs you start to question yourself as a provider and as a man. I know I am one; I fought for my country and I'm proud of it. And it scares me to think about what would happen if one of my kids got sick. Can you ask the candidates, 'If we are the richest country in the world, how come so many of us can barely afford to live here?' " The next day, as Bud approaches the voting machine, daddy-sitter-Molly has to let him go alone to do his civic duty. He looks back at her with a confident smile, fully ready to make his momentous decision, and closes the curtain as he turns to vote. Roll closing credits. Out of all the absurd idealism voiced in this movie, the whiny campaign manager(played by Nathan Lane) for candidate Donald Greenleaf(played by Dennis Hopper), made what may be the definitive statement with his question, "You know what it's like to be on the right side of every issue that never gets beyond the theory stage?" He accidentally found the nail and hammered it squarely. Everybody's got a theory about the way things should be run. Some are highly idealistic, others are brutally pragmatic. But few if any government decision-makers—whether in office or aspiring—base their public opinions on the true wisdom of hindsight. As the wise man once said, "There is nothing new under the sun." And Molly, in her school essay early on in the movie made a statement it seems all politicians forget: "Those who fail to learn from the past are destined to repeat it." Well said, Molly. Too bad you missed your own point.