Election Movies

After you watch the lunar eclipse and vote, you might want to watch an election movie. Scott Simon of NPR has suggested a few films about American election politicking.

One thing you might notice is how elections in America have changed, especially in the last two decades.

Primary Colors, 1998: a Mike Nichols film based on a novel by “Anonymous (Joe Klein) in which John Travolta plays a Clintonesque candidate and Emma Thompson is his smart and long-afflicted spouse. Larry Hagman has a cameo as a governor with secrets. Deception abounds but as Travolta says, “This is the price you pay to lead.”

Election, 1999: This Alexander Payne film based on the Tom Perotta novel is a lot more fun and though here it is Reese Witherspoon as the ambitious student politician and Matthew Broderick as the teacher who takes it all too personally, the comparisons to big-time politics are not lost on us. Scott Simon picks this line from a student-assembly speech: “Who cares about this stupid election? We all know it doesn’t matter!”

Advise and Consent, 1962: an Otto Preminger film, based on
Allen Drury’s 1959 bestseller has Henry Fonda as the nominee with a secret. Charles Laughton is his adversary, and Don Murray is a Utah senator who also has a secret of a different kind. This is the first major Hollywood film with a sympathetic gay character and it is also Betty White’s film debut. She is a Kansas senator. A politician tells his son it’s all right to lie to a reporter: “It’s a Washington, D.C., kind of lie.”

The Best Man, 1964: based on Gore Vidal’s 1960 play is about a contested political convention. (nowadays we contest the election results more often.) Here we have a Trumanesque ex-president who tells a young politician “It’s par for the course to fool the people. But it’s downright foolish to try to fool yourself.”

The Armageddon Election of 2020

An animation depiction of the flyby of small asteroid (2012 TC4 ) as it passes under Earth.  Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Read into this in whatever way suits your philosophy: an asteroid is due to come close to Earth on the day before the November Presidential election.

2020 is the year of the pandemic and civil unrest and a very divisive U.S. election season. And now an asteroid is headed toward us and the timing seems symbolic.

Celestial object 2018VP1 is projected to come close to Earth on November 2, according to the Center for Near Earth Objects Studies at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The object was first identified at Palomar Observatory in California in 2018.

You’ll be hearing about this asteroid in the popular media a lot more in the lead-up to the election. But this is not a disaster film scenario as in Deep Impact or Armageddon.

Asteroid 2018VP1 is small. It’s approximately 6.5 feet, so it poses no real threat to Earth. If it did enter our planet’s atmosphere, it would disintegrate. It’s too small to do more than creating a bolide (fireball) and it won’t make an impact and create the strewn field that appears in every asteroid disaster film.

But here is a political angle. NASA has been directed by Congress to discover 90% of the near-Earth asteroids larger than 140 meters (459 feet) in size and report on asteroids of any size.

When Julius Caesar died, a comet appeared. Many Romans thought that this was a sign that Caesar had become a god.

Into the 1700s, Europeans thought that comets meant that crops would be good and grapes would yield excellent wine.

But generally, comets have been seen as harbingers of bad news.

Here’s a historical example: At the Battle of Hastings in 1066, a comet was sighted. The Bayeux Tapestry shows people looking up at what we now know was an appearance of Halley’s Comet. The inscription there says that it foretold that there would be a change in the kingdom, and William the Conqueror took over control of England from the Anglo-Saxons.

Our reactions to these celestial events have still been unscientific even into the 20th century. There was a mass panic when Halley’s Comet appeared in 1910 and articles then put forward the idea that poison gas in the comet’s tail would kill off humanity when the Earth passed through the tail.

So, what does the appearance of a comet the day before our election foretell to you?