I spoke with a handful of people as we were leaving a viewing of Death of a President. I asked them what they thought. One college-age woman said, “Well – I think its done well, but as to it being controversial, I don’t think it was that controversial. I mean there’s all this controversy around it, and don’t think its controversial. Its more like a look-ahead movie.”
Another woman with much gray in her hair said, “Bush inspired me to do something I’ve never done in my life. In the Bush / Gore election, I went straight down the ticket, didn’t even glance at the names, and voted a straight Democratic ticket. I don’t like Bush. I want Bush impeached, and it irks me that no one will even talk about it after the Clinton travesty. I think Bush should be impeached, but I think a movie about killing him is immoral.”
This woman’s friend said, “I want Bush impeached, too, but not assassinated. This movie makes me feels sympathetic toward him, and I sure didn’t have any sympathy for him when I walked in! Its like, yeah, well, I’m not happy that he’s not impeached, but at least he’s not murdered.” The younger professional woman standing nearby said, “That’s right. I feel sympathetic, too. So what is this meant to be? It looks like it is meant to be against Bush, but maybe its really meant to be for him. Because I feel sympathetic to him now, too. I feel like I should go home and phone him to make sure he’s all right.”
I went home feeling under a heavy cloud of burden spread by the realism of the docu-film Death of a President; I felt like I should buy a black dress from Chadwick’s and make plans for a funeral. This is a pronounced effect to be had from a movie. I still can’t quite shake the gloom.
People are by nature imitative. Look at dressing trends throughout our history, for example. Towns folk and villagers all adorned themselves in the same array; it was the village costume or the national costume. You can still see vestiges of it in European countries. But the documentation of the imitative trait goes all the way back to the Mycenaean empire. And faith in our human monkey-see-monkey-do gene is what made Tom Sawyer and Mark Twain famous.
This trait is integral to at least part of the discussion of the moral nature of Death of a President. People do imitate what they see and hear. People in America are a little more unstrung these days than in times past, and so imitate more things more often. Somebody will imitate the attitudes, ideas, behaviors and actions in Death of a President.
They set the film in 2007 and set a prominent caveat at the front of the film declaring it an unquestioned work of fiction. But should you say, “I could kill you!” to the wrong person at the wrong time (is there a right person and a right time?) can be turned against you and construed as a threat in a court of law. Surely, simulating the murder of a President – one alive and sitting in office – could be construed as a threat against his life. Oh, yes. It is declared fiction. I wonder if there are any lawyers in our midst. What do the legal minds say about this particular moral and legal point?
Surely, in director Gabriel Range’s second film, the cinematographic excellence of the qualities of this film are without question: It is the definitive film of it’s genre. The acting, the cinematography, the directing, the screenplay (Simon Finch and Gabriel Range) are all unflawed. I had to keep reminding myself, “This is just a movie.” If I were to rate this movie just on these things I would have to give it a definitive 5 Stars, because I saw no flaws.
Death of a President is really a contemporary, high-tech way of burning this President in effigy – or is it, like the young woman said, a kind of reverse effigy to drum up sympathy and gratitude toward George W. Bush? If its the former, wouldn’t it be equally dramatic and demonstrative to make a movie about impeaching him – successfully. Because last time I checked impeachment is not a violent crime, whereas murder – assassination – you see, is.
For thematic content, as opposed to production quality, and for entertainment value, this movie gets a different rating from it’s rating for cinematographic excellence. For theme and entertainment, I rate Death of a President 1 Star.
Combining these two to get one overall rating for Death of a President is tricky: It is like combining the proverbial Apples and Oranges. How do you go about it? By cinematographic qualities? Or by value and entertainment? I must take the approach of judging by thematic and entertainment value. Number 1: It isn’t entertaining; it’s provoking. It is truly real-to-life in it’s pseudo documentary garb. And life isn’t generally entertaining. It contains very questionable thematic and moral – or should I say immoral – material. My rating for Death of a President is 1.