“If you yell ‘foul’ long enough, hard enough, and loud enough, people believe you.” If I suspected Trump might have done some research while preparing for his run for president, I’d say that he watched this film as a primer. And if I’d watched this film a few months earlier, I wouldn’t have cringed in recognition at every scene.
Willie Stark is an everyman who sees corruption in the political world around him and vows to run for office to stop it. He fails, but attracts enough attention so that a vaguely Hugh Laurie-looking guy follows him around to write about his campaign. Then he tries again, encouraged by more powerful figures using him to steal away votes from their favored candidate’s opponent. Instead, he rallies the uneducated masses to join him in a populist upheaval and suddenly finds himself with more power than he’s ever had.
Obviously, he uses that power to improve humankind and champion important causes, right? If you believe that, you probably voted for Bernie Sanders.
The funny thing is, without knowing much about this film, I initially believed Willie Stark to be more of a Bernie-type character. He runs on a platform of improving the conditions of his fellow “hicks,” the local farmers and working class folks who don’t have a voice in government. With that plan comes free medical care, free education, no tolls or taxes – and an end to rampant corruption. Who exactly will pay for this grand vision with all of these social services and no taxes is a crucial question, but fortunately we don’t need to find out, because is as corrupt as they come!
That’s where the movie takes a turn from #FeeltheBern to #MakeAmericaGreatAgain. Willie surrounds himself with minions and Mafioso-style heavies primed to do his bidding, whether it’s a judge who ignores his son’s drunk driving incident or the mysterious death of a political rival. It’s like looking into the future of America.
What happens when the public gets duped? I understand this film (and the book it was based on) was written about Huey Long, a political figure from the 1930s. As always, when I’m seeking wisdom in a post-apocalyptic world, I turn to Battlestar Galactica: All of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again. Leaders of any kind are at risk of the power going to their head, or of convincing people that they will do something and then do something else. It happens in oligarchies and in democracies. The question, left mostly unanswered in this film, is how much damage will be wreaked before the people realize their mistake and take measures to correct it?
First Time Watching? Yes
Final Verdict: They say he’s an honest man