OPINION: Can’t Look Away: 6 movies for the Trump era

Nov 20 2016, 10:16 pm

Written for Daily Hive by Mike Archibald

It’s happened: one of the most idiotic, racist, misogynistic jerks ever to run for public office will soon be America’s President—the most powerful man on Earth. As we grasp for answers, seek out comfort, and try to imagine how things might unfold in the near future, we’ll surely be turning to art for help.

These six movies were all made well before this year’s election, but they shed light on it in powerful, provocative ways. They can’t save us from Trump, but at the very least they can help us understand him.

Here are six movies for surviving your new world order.

See also

A Face in the Crowd

This 1957 film tells the tale of a down-and-dirty folk singer who becomes a television sensation and then an operator for right-wing big shots. As the villainous Lonesome Rhodes, Andy Griffith hollers and cackles up a storm, creating an image of populist posturing that puts Trump to shame but anticipates his quick rise to power. Viewed in the wake of the election, this movie seems sharper and truer than ever: it’s about a shameless phony who cons his audience by claiming to speak for them, and that is exactly what we’ve just seen happen. More than any film on this list, this one speaks to the Trump phenomenon in all its ugliness.


American politics, high school style. This 1999 farce marked the rise of Reese Witherspoon, and she’s superb as Tracy Flick, the innocent-seeming overachiever who runs for student body president. It’s a campaign made hilarious by bitter rivalries, sexual intrigue and the desperate manoeuvres of teacher Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick), who sees Flick for what she is: a ruthless operator. Director Alexander Payne would go on to become one of Hollywood’s best contemporary filmmakers, but he still hasn’t topped Election.

The Manchurian Candidate

Perhaps the idea has crossed your mind: Donald Trump is so ridiculous that he must be a put-on. This 1962 classic, which some consider one of the greatest American films ever made, tells of a conspiracy to install a loud-mouthed moron in the White House. A ladies’ garden club meeting erupts in murder, the Queen of Diamonds triggers a brainwashed assassin, and Frank Sinatra races against the clock to head off political disaster against all odds. This is a satirical thriller, a scary, funny film that holds up a warped mirror to American political culture. Accept no substitutes: the 2004 remake is vastly inferior.

Aguirre, the Wrath of God

German filmmaker Werner Herzog is now widely known for his documentaries, but in the 70s his fiction films were among the best of their time: wild, visionary works that moved slowly but steadily toward the point of madness. This 1972 stunner depicts a jungle quest led by a fiery, charismatic lunatic. Aguirre, played by the great Klaus Kinski, leads his soldiers down the Amazon in search of gold, becoming more and more monstrous as his plans go awry. Besides his meanness and delusional level of self-esteem, it’s Aguirre’s improbable promises of greatness that put me in mind of Trump. How far will his people let him lead them?

Taxi Driver

Trump wants to Make America Great Again, while Travis Bickle waits for “a real rain” to come. As played by Robert De Niro in the role of a lifetime, Bickle is a man seething with anger. Lonely and alienated from modern life, he seeks an outlet for his rage, and when he finds one the results are horrific. With this 1976 film De Niro, director Martin Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader created a portrait of political hatred and desperation that has gone down in history. It would be insulting to equate Trump’s supporters with Bickle, but perhaps the President-elect himself fits the bill: besides cluelessness, meanness and misogyny what the two share is a loathing of the other, a need for scapegoats and the belief in a miracle solution waiting just around the corner.

Good Night, and Good Luck

George Clooney’s 2005 film is a salute to the liberal media. In telling the true story of TV journalist Edward R. Murrow and his fight against anti-Communist bigmouth Joseph McCarthy, Clooney and his team pay tribute to journalism’s political power. It’s a film to keep in mind as you watch the coming struggle between the new President and the people paid to hold him accountable. Viewing this film you’ll get a taste of the long struggle to come; we’ll need a thousand Murrows to fight Trump, and I suspect we’ll have them.

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