FILM CLUB
Election
(1999)

Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) wants your vote. Needs your vote (Image © MTV Films). 

Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) wants your vote. Needs your vote (Image © MTV Films). 

Right now, we’re 440 days away from the next Presidential election, but you’d never know that if you turned on the news, where even the most ridiculous candidates get wall-to-wall coverage (see: Trump, Donald). The news media, desperately chasing ratings, builds non-stories into Greek tragedies and reduces issues that deserve consideration and respect into binary flashpoints, stifling conversation and mutual understanding underneath angry sound bites. 

It’s enough to make even the most idealistic among us cynical. That’s why, at least once an election cycle, I post a clip from the movie Election to my Facebook wall. In the clip, the profoundly unpopular Tammy Metzler (Jessica Campbell, who was excellent in this movie and Freaks and Geeks, and then disappeared), who is running for school President only to get back at the girl who broke her heart, stands up at an assembly and silences the jeering crowd by asking “Who cares about this stupid election?”

In that clip is everything that makes Election work. It’s satirical, but not broad. The kids look and act like real kids. And because those elements feel real, we can hear Tammy’s simple message, which is genuine in a way that her opponent, Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), could never understand. 

We’ve all known a Tracy Flick--the person who achieves because they’re afraid not to. Who succeeds because of their drive, even if that drive exists only to prove how driven the person is. And so, like a snake eating its tail, Tracy wins because she only cares about winning. And that selfish instinct will carry her, as we see at the end of the movie, to the steps of the White House. “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity”, as a political commentator named Yeats once said. 

But if that’s all that Election was, it wouldn’t have the power that it does. Each person in the movie, from immoral ethics teacher Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick), clueless jock Paul Metzler (Chris Klein, in the role he was born to play), and even Tracy, is given an internal monologue. That allows us to see the way that each character justifies their moral choices to themselves, and the desperation that leads to those despicable actions. Politicians, Election says, aren’t empty ciphers or soulless bureaucrats, they’re just people. And in a world where nobody can tell the difference between morals and ethics, who else is there to lead us than those rough, lonely beasts slouching toward the White House?


Join us Thursday, August 27th for our live-tweet event of Election, starring Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick. Follow along on Twitter with the hashtag #dmmovies