Election years are often called “the silly season.” But in 2020, the stakes feel much too high for such lightheartedness. We need inspiration, edification and, quite frankly, a massive course correction when it comes to the American project: its most aspirational ideals, its most perilous pitfalls, and the part strong institutions and informed citizens play in keeping the whole crazy experiment from exploding into hyperpartisan smithereens.
Political movies can help. But first we must define the term. John Sayles — perhaps the greatest American political filmmaker of his or any generation — once wrote in Mother Jones that movies as disparate as “Rambo” and “Adventures in Babysitting” could be described as political, because “they served only to maintain the status quo, strengthen stereotyping, and push people apart.” He makes an excellent point: A political film can be great — or at least jarringly effective — even though it’s not political on purpose.