It’s one of my go-to movies for several reasons, but “The American President” is a great example of how one person achieves what many people believe to be the ultimate political prize. Only he is filled with such doubt about himself that some decisions are made because love and the fear of loss compels him to question himself. It’s not a tale of redemption, or a quest to find himself, but learning to move forward without betraying his own past and beliefs.
I like the writing simply because it doesn’t talk down to the audience. It assumes correctly that people understand the basic of politics and doesn’t try to hold their hand in explaining some activities. You have a political opponent who stops at nothing to try to convince the public that he is the “moral choice”. That the current occupant of the White House, who is a widow, has started to date again, he must have something wrong with him. His quest for a balance between being “The Most Powerful Man in the World” needing to have someone to talk to about life, love. Even the device of a teenage daughter doesn’t have the silly notion of jealousy, she wants her father to be happy. Even telling him to “complement her shoes, women really like that!”
You have the background of several fights with congress about weapons and environmental issues, but they play second fiddle to the human drama of friendship. The relationship between The President and his Chief of Staff is played out wonderfully, noting that they have been best friends for decades leading up to this time frame. At times they talk like employer/employee, but at times each needs to be reminded that their’s is a lifelong friendship open to speaking their mind. You can see the pain, torment in trying to do the right thing and sometimes failing. Knowing you are going to hurt someone you love simply be trying to do what you think is the right thing. Later learning that the right thing might not really be what you thought. And that loss sometimes is required.
“I spent so much time trying to keep my job that I forgot to do my job”. A fragment of a speech near the end that rings in my mind all the time. Micheal Douglas delivers it with such conviction that you wished he was the sitting President and that those words were what you actually heard during a news conference. The result I won’t spoil, because I truly believe this is the type of movie everyone should watch.
Love is great, the flip side of that shiny coin is fear of loss. The ugly stepsister that remains in the corner of every fairy tale told throughout the ages. The things people will do for love is a common theme, but just as important is that they do them because they fear losing that love. That warm feeling that helps them get through the day, when everything is hard, when life has just kicked you for the millionth time that day; the feeling of love helps sooth those doubts. Fear is powerful, more powerful than any other emotion because it plays on those doubts. It feels like you have fallen beneath the ice and you can’t see the spot where you fell though the cracks.
We all crave love. When it is absent we let those lingering doubts create questions about ourselves that only the presence of love can answer. It’s one thing to be comfortable with who you are, but life is rarely complete without experiencing the satisfaction of a hug or a smile.
This movie captures all of that in a short 120 minutes. There is a reason why certain themes are considered to be classic, they ring true from generation to generation and from spoken word through the age of the Internet. I still remember the first book I read that dealt with loss, The Bridge to Terabithia. My mother doesn’t remember giving it to me when I was about 8 or 9, but up until that point I knew nothing about true loss. But as an adult I see that the reasons it hurt was because the friendship had brought love into the world for them both.
In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Worldly Encounters.”