CAUTION: CONTAINS SPOILERS
It’s an adventure to fork through all the literary weaves of this most recent George Clooney film; it’s like a big plate a spaghetti topped with several different cheeses to cover the standard bolognese sauce, a different flavor with every intertwined noodle.
The Ides of March (March 15th) can be traced all the way back to an ancient Greek myth, written down and collected in Latin form in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which is filled to the brim of Greek and Roman tales of people and nymphs turning into trees, animals, plants, etc. One such story captures a some-what tragic portrait of Anna Perenna, for whom the Romans held a festival in her honor on The Ides of March. However, the most well-known occurrence on The Ides of March is Julius Caesar’s assassination in 44 B.C. From here, one could go into the story of Anthony and Cleopatra, but Clooney’s film is not about a love-affair…maybe a sick and twisted, emotionally abusive relationship with politics, but no Romeo and Juliet. (At least Anthony and Cleopatra decided to kill themselves together. Romeo and Juliet needed to work on their communication skills.)
The actual phrase “The Ides of March” did not appear until Shakespeare wrote Julius Caesar, a play obviously based on Caesar’s assassination. (Funny how politics are still are fantastic source of inspiration; art imitating life.) It was Shakespeare’s use of the phrase that coined it to mean ‘a fateful day’, and that definition has stuck ever since, never mind the actual date to which it refers to.
Who is it in the press that calls on me?
I hear a tongue shriller than all the music
Cry “Caesar!” Speak, Caesar is turn’d to hear.
Beware the ides of March.
What man is that?
A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.
(Julius Caesar Act 1, scene 2, 15-19)
Farragut North is a 2008 play written by Beau Willimon, loosely based on the 2004 Democratic primary campaign of Howard Dean. The titled refers to a subway stop on the Metro Red Line in Washington D.C. near the infamous K Street, which is nearest to the district’s center for think tanks, lobbyists, and advocacy groups. Willimon himself worked on Dean’s campaign, in addition to working for Senator Charles E. Schumer. The title of Willimon’s play bears a direct significance to its content. Clooney’s film is based off this play.
How does ‘The Ides of March” fit into Clooney’s play as a title? Perhaps it is only appropriate that his film should be titled “The Ides of March” because its inception comes from one of the most well-known political plays from one of the most well-known playwrights in history. However, very few filmmakers and writers nowadays can achieve such a legendary status and, while Ryan Gosling may receive an Academy Award nomination for his role as Stephen Meyers, “The Ides of March” does not posses that legendary staying power as it is only fueled by circumstance of current political affairs. Its relevance outweighs the actual content as, more often than not, films bear some significance to current or recent affairs, or have A-list actor’s staring in an obscure, independent flick that makes it to the mainstream, like ‘Eternal Sunshine For The Spotless Mind” (2004). Plays have a greater liberty when it comes to the time frame of history itself. If they did not, Shakespeare would have become obsolete as soon as the 18th century rolled around, and Thornton Wilder’s Our Town would not still be performed in high schools and colleges throughout the nation; and My Fair Lady.
“The Ides of March” is titled as such because each plot point throughout the film leads up to a fateful event. The opening scene is very play-esque as a single spotlight illuminates Meyers’ face as he projects the first few lines of Governor Morris’ (Clooney) speech. His steady and confident voice possesses command of the audience and lets everyone know, ‘you need to watch this’. From the synopsis and trailers, we already know that Meyers is not running for President, but he is essentially Morris’s right hand man, aside from Paul Zara (Hoffman). Beginning with such originality and mystery, every word of dialouge is a foreshadowing titbit of an inevitable political train-wreck of manipulation and lies so carefully crafted, they would be able to pass a lie-detector test. This led-in gets its kick-off when Meyers accepts an invitation to meet with Tom Duffy, (Giamatti) clear that this will be a haunting mistake for Meyers throughout the film, and one he or may not be able to get himself out of.
He makes the mistake of confessing to Zara, who takes the incident very personally as he holds steadfast to an unusually loyal code of ethics for a campaign manager, and Zara ousts Meyers to Ida Horowicz, (Tomei) a ruthless journalist. Meyer’s position within Morris’ campaign starts to unravel at a quicker pace when he becomes involved with Molly Stearns, (Wood) an alluring 20-year-old intern who reveals that she’s pregnant after having an unintended one-night-stand with Morris’, and needs money for an abortion. It is this situation that allows Meyers leverage to stay with the campaign at the end of the film, forcing him to shed his idealistic coat of loyalty in order to get down and dirty with the veteran politicians.
Without knowing exactly how much of Farragut North was adapted for Clooney’s film, the most prominent weakness of “The Ides of March” is also its most needed- Stearn’s pregnancy and subsequent suicide. It is weak because this plot-point is where the film turns to a cliched, go-to device for stirring major controversy. It is needed because it is a simple plot device and serves the over-all theme well without convoluting the script. (It takes two people to make a baby. It takes many to run a drug or human trafficking operation.) While it is unfortunate that the writers decided to kill-off one of the only two female characters in the script, it made for a neat little package as far as keeping the script contained within its theme.
“The Ides of March” is a relevant film for current events, but the general public has been privy to the corruption of politics for a long time. It was just nice to put “the nature of the beast” under a microscope, and relish Meyers’ ability to still come out on top without completely losing his identity.