THE IDES OF MARCH: awesome except for that unnecessary retro plot twist
Before we get going, you need to know that this post contains monstrously huge plot spoilers for THE IDES OF MARCH. We’re not joking — scroll down at your peril.
The trouble is, it’s kind of hard to talk about THE IDES OF MARCH (out today on DVD, it was nominated but totally — unfairly — shut out at the Golden Globes on Sunday night) without spoiling the plot, because one of the major story lines — which is nowhere in any of the trailers, for once — is meant to be a huge crazy surprise. And the reason this story line isn’t in any the trailers is not because the trailer makers were feeling magnanimous and didn’t want to spoil the movie for you. Nope. We’re guessing, rather, that the trailer makers — who aren’t the filmmakers, fyi, and whose only goal is to get bums into theatre seats — didn’t want to scare off potential viewers by mentioning the topic that “rhymes with smashmortion” (as one character so memorably put it in KNOCKED UP).
That’s right: THE IDES OF MARCH is not just a tense political thriller -slash- political morality tale starring people way too good-looking to ever be seriously involved in politics (George Clooney and Ryan Gosling). It’s also a bit of an abortion tale. And while we don’t think the filmmakers intended this movie to be an abortion morality tale, it sure comes across that way at times.
The film takes place during the Democratic primary in Ohio and follows the campaign trail of a Democratic governor Mike Morris (Clooney). As Ohio goes, so goes the nation, we are reminded. Clooney’s press spokesman (Gosling) soon starts a booty-call relationship with a pretty young blonde campaign intern, played by Evan Rachel Wood. Actually, she’s the one who initiates. Their flirtatious dialogue feels incredibly real in that cheesy way that smart young people hit on each other. But then it turns out — here’s the real plot spoiler if you haven’t left yet — that she also once slept with hottie married would-be-president Clooney. Oh, and also, she accidentally got knocked up by him.
So far, so realistic — it’s the oldest story in the book, in fact. Promising future leader of America — happily married, good guy, blah blah blah — sleeps with hot young thing. And it’s not exactly a stretch to think that a 19- or 20-year-old would neglect to insist on a condom in such a situation, would neglect to mention she’s not on the pill.
The intern tells her booty call press spokesman that she wants to get an abortion — she’s matter of fact about this because she’s a smart young woman with a bright political future ahead of her. And given the fact that just hours earlier she’d been playfully texting Gosling to set up their booty call, and minutes earlier they’d had hot, light-hearted booty call sex (they laugh about the fact that he’s watching poll numbers on TV while doing it), she doesn’t seem overly distraught. Upset, yes — because abortions are upsetting. But not exactly suicidal. Again, so far so realistic.
But then. As Anthony Lane wrote in The New Yorker, this movie is ”slimy with unfeasible plotting.” Because after she leaves the abortion clinic, she finds out — or thinks she finds out — that her booty call may spill the news about her secret pregnancy and abortion. And so she overdoses on pills and boozes and dies in her hotel room.
Um, what?! Is this really 2011? Sure, we know that abortion is still considered a shameful secret all over this country. And yes, this character had earlier noted that her dad — the chairman of the Democratic National Committee — was a die-hard Catholic. But we just find it hard to believe that an otherwise stable, happy young woman — an educated woman, a playful woman, a woman clearly comfortable and confident with casual sex, a woman who was pretty clearly her own sexual agent — would suddenly turn suicidal after an abortion. Later we see Gosling listen to voicemail messages from her, wherein she asks him what he was planning on doing. So this smart young confident woman doesn’t even wait a few hours for him to return her call, just to confirm that she should go ahead and commit suicide? She tops herself on a hunch? Yeah, we don’t buy it. We truly hope this particularly retro plot twist wasn’t meant to punish her for her abortion.
The real bummer is, her suicide — even her pregnancy, actually — are totally unnecessary. We don’t mean unnecessary in the grand scheme of life (though that is certainly true, too). Rather, the plot would have been just as thrilling and dark without it. In many scenes this movie felt like an old-school Western — especially the showdown between Clooney and Gosling in the restaurant kitchen. But these scenes didn’t need the pregnancy and abortion to feel this way. The simple fact of a one-night stand would have been enough. All the blackmailing, the using and abusing, the lying and the disillusion — a one-night stand between a young intern and a happily married idealistic Democratic governor would have accomplished this too.
All that said, it’s still one of the best movies we saw in 2011. Just a shame about the smashmortion, is all.