Movies for the 2016 Election Season

Editor's Note: This is a guest column submitted by listener Andrew Vandiver. You can reach him on Twitter here. 

If you're like me, you're probably bored with the repetitive stream of news coverage from the 2016 presidential election. Perhaps it’s time to take a break and watch a good movie. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you have to give up politics entirely.  

I outlined below some of my favorite lesser-known political movies.  The movies range from 1980’s science fiction action to an Oscar winner. The common theme is that, in one way or another, they are all relevant to the 2016 primary and general election.   

They Live

Imagine if you gave Bernie Sanders several million dollars and told him to make a sci-fi action film starring a professional wrestler. The end result would likely be very similar to They Live

On the surface, the movie seems like a typical science fiction story. Our cultural elites consist of aliens in disguise, and their human collaborators, who are extracting wealth from planet Earth at the expense of the poor and vulnerable.  A nameless drifter, played by Rowdy Roddy Piper, discovers this plot and joins up with a resistance movement determined to expose the alien conspiracy. The movie is full of action and cheesy one-liners from start to finish. 

However, this isn’t just a dumb action flick. The movie was created by horror film director John Carpenter as a critique of Reaganomics. It reflects a deep anxiety about our business and political leaders and whether they are serving their own interests at the expense of the common good.  The movie contains populists themes that were present in both the Trump and Sanders campaigns in 2016.  

A Face in the Crowd

A Face in the Crowd is a story about a deeply flawed man who, through the power mass media, rises to fame and political power.  It’s also a shocking performance for fans of Andy Griffith, who plays the lead character named Lonesome Rhodes.  This isn’t the Andy Taylor of Mayberry.  Rhodes is a hard drinking womanizer who manipulates everyone around him.  

Despite being made in 1957, the movie clearly predicted the danger of a demagogue gaining power through mass media.  It also delves into how those close to such a figure can themselves be corrupted by their charm. Parallels to this story can clearly be found 2016, and it might become even more relevant as society continues to blur the line between entertainment and reality.  

A Man for All Seasons

A Man for All Seasons focuses on the historic events surrounding the life and death of Sir Thomas More. While the movie may be unfamiliar to millennials, it was critically acclaimed at the time of its release, winning the Oscar for Best Picture in 1967.

More was both an attorney and a successful politician. He was also one of the most brilliant minds of his day and even King Henry VIII relied on him as a trusted advisor and friend. 

Everything changed when King Henry declared himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England and demanded that his subjects, including More, take an oath affirming his authority. More had several opportunities to preserve both his high office and life by simply taking the oath. Yet, his conscience would not allow him to do so. He refused the oath and was ultimately executed for declining to violate his conscience. While on the scaffold at his public execution, More declared that he died “the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”

More’s life and death remain relevant in a year in which the convictions of people of all political persuasions are being tested. It’s an important story of living according to your conscience, even as the larger society pressures you to do otherwise.