Looking back from Election (1999) to his first feature film, Payne saw Citizen Ruth (1996) as “something of a dry run for” the later one. (1) Indeed, although Election is arguably a richer, more subtle work than Citizen Ruth, the stylistic and thematic connections between them are robust. Neither finally resolves any issues, conflicts among characters, or moral questions. Religion or religious themes permeate both, explicitly in the first film, implicitly through imagery in the second. The Omaha in which Payne set the movies—the city in which he grew up—gives each a convincing realism that enlarges its particulars into generalities. (2)

In Election, the cultural implications of a high school Student President election expands subtly via shots containing U. S. flags, clusters of red, white, and blue, and other icons of American culture and politics, including a few images of Abraham Lincoln. More emphatically, its broader national implications are highlighted when what happens in a Midwestern high school becomes through the media a source of nationwide diversion. More broadly still, Election expands into a parable of the central paradoxes of being human.

1. Destiny or/and Freedom

At the thematic centre of Election wrestle two opposing conceptions of the efficacy of human will: one favours the strictures of fate, the other the freedom of action implied by the concepts of morals and ethics. Neither—or perhaps each, paradoxically—prevails. In two of her many voice-overs Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) implicitly acknowledges both: First, “You can’t interfere with destiny; that’s why it’s destiny.” Later, “Win or lose, ethical conduct is the most important thing. Just ask Mr. McAllister.”

Tracy and Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick), “Mr. M” as he is known to his students, at once expound and enact the dilemmas inherent in the ideas of fate and free will. Payne remarked that he wished to associate Jim with circles and Tracy with straight lines—a pattern that he doesn’t regard as having been entirely successful in execution. Successful or not, the association of Mr. M with circles is subsumed into a larger pattern of imagery having to do with fruit, food, trash, and—ultimately—Christian mythology. For the moment, however, let us consider Mr. M as destined to repeat laps on the same circular track, and Tracy as fated to go straight to … somewhere successful.

On the other hand, perhaps not destiny but character, to which morals and ethics apply, may determine the outcomes of the story. Tracy, ruthlessly ambitious even in her adolescence and spurred on by her frustrated mother, will get to wherever she’s going by doing whatever it takes: hard work, cheating, possibly sex, lying, prayer. Mr. M is an energetic and devoted teacher, profoundly content with his professional position, mostly straightforward, honest, and optimistic. Apparently, he has no desire to be other than what he is, where he is.

Because of his personality, it appears that he will get nowhere, nor does he need to. But he’s sexually frustrated and therefore open to temptation, and he is also a bit protective of his position of power in the little world of Carver High School. These “big buts,” as Pee Wee Herman (Paul Rubens) put it in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985), lead him downward, onto dangerous, unpredictable paths, from which he manages only a partial and ambiguous climb back up.

Could we not say, then, that character is destiny? And yet character is revealed, as Aristotle argued, by actions, presumably freely chosen. (3) We and the film go around and around on this issue, a bit like Mr. M’s mostly unprogressive circulations. Ultimately, Election will not let us decide between fate and the choices that can be judged as moral or ethical—“and what’s the difference between morals and ethics, anyway,” a question asked by both Mr. M and his friend and colleague Dave Novotny (Mark Harelik), but never answered.

Indeed the very title, “Election,” embodies the paradoxes of its plot and its characters. Election can mean choosing, electing to do one thing or another or to refrain from doing something. As a term of Christian—notably Calvinist—doctrine, it can mean something like the opposite: having no chance on earth to affect one’s status with God, but rather being predestined, or not, for salvation and eternal life. That meaning is relevant; Christian mythology and doctrine, only slightly sublimated, significantly illuminate the imagery and inform the dialogue of Payne’s film. (“Payne’s film” for shorthand; more accurately, it should also be considered as authored by Jim Taylor, the co-screenwriter and, according to the credits, the provider of the hand-held 16mm footage that was used to depict the love life of Tammy (Jessica Campbell), a major secondary character.)

Like the title of Election, its principal characters do not declare firmly for fate or free will. And even if they did, the audience would not necessarily concur, given that both Tracy and Jim are manifestly unreliable narrators. Tracy seems to claim a rather grandiose future for herself with her campaign sign: “SIGN UP FOR / TOMORROW / TODAY!” and with her assertion, already quoted, about the futility of trying to interfere with destiny. Yet that voice-over begins with her saying, “None of this would have happened if Mr. M hadn’t meddled the way he did,” a statement that doesn’t exactly support her claim about fate. Her final remark about her future, which she makes when she is disturbed by less disciplined classmates while studying in her Georgetown University dorm room, leans again toward destiny: “I’ve come to accept that very few people are truly destined to be special.”

Regarding Tracy, the title of Payne’s film guides us back to the central argument of Max Weber’s classic The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Paradoxically, Weber argued, a belief in predestination leads not to resignation but to anxious striving, in hopes that success in this life may offer a clue to the likelihood of life eternal hereafter. If Tracy is destined to be great—“special” is the usual synonym in Election—her success, ethically or otherwise achieved, might confirm a favourable heavenly prognosis.

Mr. M, more modestly, also seems to claim a destiny—in his case, as a teacher: “I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.” An advocate for upright morals/ethics who lectures Tracy and his straying colleague Dave on their behaviour and who sees himself “standing in front of a room full of young people, … preparing them for the tough moral and ethical decisions that they’ll face as adults,” Mr. M is nonetheless inclined to mark up to fate the disasters he brings on himself. Things “happen” to him. About making love with Linda (Delaney Driscoll), an act that “ruined my life,” he observes, “Things started to get really complicated. … It was something that just happened.” Ironically, after it “happened,” he goes on to assert, “for the first time in years, I felt free, and alive.” Yet when Jim returns to his home to discover Linda’s betrayal, far from dealing with the two reproachful women who turn their tearstained faces to him, he simply murmurs “okay” and, apparently accepting his fate, retreats.

Although Mr. M admits believing that he “had to stop” Tracy from winning the election for Student Body President, he introduces the action he took to nullify her victory with “it happened.” If he hadn’t accidentally missed the garbage can with an ancient carton of spaghetti, or if the janitor hadn’t seen it spill on the floor, or noticed the discarded ballots in Mr. M’s wastebasket, the unlucky teacher would probably have escaped the consequences of his impulsive intervention. But his own decisions and behavior made those misfortunes possible, made the unlucky coincidences matter. Above the desk at which Mr. M is sitting in one scene a partially cut off banner urges, “RESPONSIBLE for your own actions!”

Tammy (Jessica Campbell) and Paul Metzler (Chris Klein), among the supporting characters, add texture to the theme of destiny. “Lisa and I,” declares a rejected Tammy, “were destined to be together.” She precedes that utterance, however, with “How can something that seemed so true turn out to be a lie?” As is often the case in Election, Tammy’s query can be taken in two ways: as contesting the veracity of “turn out to be a lie,” or as accepting it, but with astonishment.

Paul’s understanding of his fate is less questioning and equivocal—though the audience may consider his role as more complicated than Paul himself does. After breaking his leg skiing and thereby losing the chance to return as the quarterback of Carver High’s football team, he finds himself “mad at God” and “feeling that now my life had no purpose.” But “Then one day destiny just walks up and taps [me] on the shoulder.” That destiny, embodied in Mr. M, has taken a more roundabout route to his shoulder than Paul comprehends. To wit:

With the amorous overtones of Tracy Flick’s parking lot approach echoing in Mr. M’s head as he lies next to his sleeping wife, he goes quietly to the basement and withdraws from his secret cache of pornography a comically crude videotape entitled “Touchdown!” In it, a high school football player, played by a five-o’clock-shadowed mid-thirtyish actor (Brian Tobin, doubling from his main job of casting extras) is approached in the locker room by an only slightly younger looking “cheerleader,” on whom the “quarterback” is soon mounted. This sight puts into Mr. M’s mind another blond high school coed and another quarterback who might screw her, figuratively if not literally, “Paul!” And so destiny taps him—and ultimately Jim McAllister.

Paul regards the twists and turns of his life as divinely guided. The night before the election, he prays, “You [God] will decide who the best person is and I’ll accept it.” (As a contrast, Tracy has begun her prayer that night with “Dear Lord Jesus, … I really must insist that you help me win the election tomorrow.”) Paul wins and then loses the election, in both cases because of Mr. M. As a vehicle for Lisa to prove to his sister that she, Lisa, “is not like you … a dyke,” he gets and then, after failing to win the election, loses a girlfriend. But all works out for the best in Paul’s best of all possible worlds; during the last movement of the film he reflects on a generally gratifying senior year, wonders what could have happened had he won the election, and concludes that had things gone otherwise, “I might even be dead!”

2. The Fall

The prayers of Paul and Tracy may serve to return us to the importance in Election of Christian myth, the aspect of the destiny/morals-ethics theme that expands it to the limits of history and experience. One of the two versions of the beginning of human life as told in Genesis includes the temptation of Eve and Adam, their expulsion from the Garden of Eden, and the subsequent contamination of the world by pain, hazard, and death. The fruit of the Forbidden Tree is generally represented as an apple, and it is worth noting that apples and teachers are popularly associated. Election insists on both associations, most obviously the second, but with great significance the first also. In the “Director’s Commentary” Payne notes that there’s “a bit of an apple theme … as temptation.”

More than “a bit.” Apple imagery pervades Election. It is associated mostly with Mr. M, but it is also sometimes attached to other characters, most notably Paul; and it is contrasted with other fruit, more innocent bananas and oranges. It first appears as a red, apple-shaped penholder on Mr. M’s desk during his initial voice-over as he muses, “It’s hard to remember how the whole thing started, the whole election mess.” The whole human mess started, mythogically, with an apple. During the same voice-over, an apple appears again on the plaque Mr. M receives as “Teacher of the Year.”

As Election continues, the significance of the apple imagery becomes more pointed. Under the “RESPONSIBLE for your actions” banner, an apple rests on a pile of papers. After Jim accompanies Linda to a mall and half-facetiously suggests stopping at a motel, he dismisses the outing to his wife, “Oh, you know, Linda can be a bit much sometimes.” But the apple he bites into as he speaks and an apple refrigerator magnet behind him give the lie to his feigned indifference and hint at consequences to come.

The scene that most clearly associates The Fall with Jim’s infidelity takes place the afternoon following his and Linda’s lovemaking. Earlier, as he left for school, she suggested that they continue at “that motel.” Jim prepares the room with flowers, wine, candy, and a book of poetry apparently borrowed from the school library, its relevant place marked by a long-stemmed rose. But Linda fails to appear.

When Jim returns to Linda’s house and receives no response to his knocking, he goes around to the back, where we a bush covered with red roses, and behind it an apple tree loaded with red fruit. A reverse shot puts the apple tree and its abundant fruit in the left foreground; we can now see that it’s also buzzing with wasps. Having received no answer to his calls, Jim turns to leave, at which moment a wasp lights on his eyelid and stings him. The Edenic, “free,” renewed life that he imagined with Linda bashes head on into the complication and sorrow of the fallen world. “Ow! Ow! Jesus! Oh, fuck!” The last two expletives, plausible from a naturalistic viewpoint, simultaneously evoke the ultimate result of The Fall, the coming of Christ, and the sex-shame that was its immediate first symptom.

The following morning, Mr. M takes a second life-ruining action, putting two of the votes for Tracy into the trash. As he does, the apple-penholder is again prominent on his desk. Mr. M’s accompanying voice-over has undertones of something like a second Adam attempting to avoid the mistake of the first: “The sight of Tracy at that moment affected me in a way I can’t fully explain. Who knew … how many would suffer because of her? I had to stop her. Now.”

Exiled from his home, Mr. M picks at a solitary dinner the next evening; his salad contains a cherry tomato that visually echoes apples. Further, according to Payne, “he’s eating apple pie here. (4)

In the next-to-last sequence of Election, the role of Jim as a representative of all the progeny of Adam becomes nearly explicit. In a voice-over, Jim asks, “What happens to a man when he loses everything?” Simultaneously, the camera focuses on the mid-section and legs of an early, naked man, his dangling penis especially prominent in the center of the frame. The camera pans up to reveal his face, then the image cuts to reveal that we are viewing a scene from a diorama of a Neanderthal couple, an anthropological Adam and Eve, in a desert setting. (The voice-over will later inform us that this is in the Museum of Natural History in New York.) Immediately, Jim Macalester appears in front of the scene, wearing a “MUSEUM GUIDE” button and carrying a red flag. Who better to answer the question his voice-over has just asked? Later, images of Jim with his new female companion bracket a shot of two naked, hairy primitive hominids, another Adam and Eve expelled from the ease of The Garden.

3. Sex and Power

Round, red apples serve as reminders that humans live in a complicated, dangerous world in which their destiny or their moral/ethical failures inevitably lead them into disaster, sooner or later. Apples bleed their colour into Election, linking that colour with other conventional associations: danger, anger, sexual passion, and so on. The most hazardous allied images with scarlet circles—rivaling the apple in menace and directly connected with it symbolically—are the round, red mouths of the women who tempt and torment Jim. And they have teeth.

Most striking are the prominent teeth of Linda, when she smiles at Jim. (One suspects that Ms. Driscoll was cast at least partly for that attribute.) During her trip to the mall with Jim, she tries out a lipstick and then asks for his opinion. Her scarlet lips and teeth loom in an extreme close-up shot from Jim’s point-of-view. Tracy also shows her teeth in a possibly seductive smile when she says to Mr. M, “You and I are going to be spending a lot of time together, and I for one would like that time together to be harmonious and [pause] productive. Wouldn’t you?” Whatever her intention, Mr. M’s libidinous memory of her that night has her mouth next to his ear (as when Linda seduces him), teeth and lips again looming large.

Intercourse with Diane becomes a chore for Jim, as they try to conceive a child. “Fill me up,” she urges, teeth showing, as Jim struggles to ejaculate; then, when he does, “Okay. Good job.” Payne’s close-up of her at this point is rotated ninety degrees in the frame, oriented much as Tracy’s was in his memory and as Linda’s and Tracy’s will be in the fantasies Jim evokes during another instance in which he and his wife have sex. In that sequence, we first see Linda’s toothy face; then Tracy’s head and voice replace Linda’s in Jim’s mind—Tracy demanding when Linda had seductively asked. Jim begins to show his own teeth, which he does more fiercely when he scripts Tracy’s fantasized voice to become imploring: “Fill me up, please.” (Another male, the “quarterback” in the porn video Jim watches, also shows his teeth during sex.)

Power and sex in Election are closely allied. The erotic value of winning the student body presidency at Carver High is made explicit, however inconspicuously, by the cover of one of the pornographic magazines in Jim’s secret treasure chest. On its cover title, “The Big ELECTION,” the “L” is crossed out and replaced by an “r,” in red.

There are mild phallic suggestions associated with the student president campaign in the exchange between Tracy and Mr. M at the beginning of the film: After shots of Tracy’s table legs being snapped into position and her tapping the end of a ballpoint pen as she readies her campaign, Mr. M comes by, “Not wastin’ any time, are you, Tracy?” To which she replies, “You know what they say about the early bird.” “Yes,” he responds, “I do.”

Those of Tracy’s fellow students who oppose or dislike her express their hostility in oral-sexual terms, “Eat me!” and “Eat me raw!” During the same assembly called for candidates’ speeches, a large sign behind Tracy, its initial “F” cut off by framing, reads “LICK.”

For a confirmation of the complex of sex, mouths and teeth, and power, we may turn to the sequence in which Paul tells us in voice-over, “I sure was surprised when Lisa Flannigan asked me for a ride home and ended up blowin’ me.” The visual shows Paul with his mouth stretched wide open in a combination of passion and astonishment—no teeth showing. Lisa rises from between Paul’s spread legs, exposes her large front teeth with a grin, and announces, “I’ve wanted this for so long!” “The next thing you know,” Paul continues, “she’s my girlfriend.” And his campaign manager. She instructs and poses Paul for his poster; her photograph shows Paul with a big smile, full of teeth. The teeth and the promise of power are in her control.

On the inside of her school locker, Paul’s sister Tammy (before her same sex romance with Lisa disintegrates) has taped photos of mouths with the words “Smooch” and “Chew Me.” Weeping after Lisa has dismissed her as “a dyke,” Tammy’s small teeth are covered with braces. (5) Then, “Sometimes when I’m sad, I sit and watch the power station.” As she says this we see her contemplating seven huge chimneys. A dissolve to a slightly closer view, completely unnecessary for purposes of the narrative, emphasizes again the image of the power station and its phallic chimneys, images perhaps of her love lost to phallic power.

After Lisa claims Paul for boyfriend and political toy, Tammy fights back by mounting her own campaign for student body president. She too understands the erotics of the election.

Along with their explicit libidinal significance, the other usual function of mouths, eating food, is also persistently connected with sex. Mr. Novotny’s seduction of Tracy begins in a restaurant and is consummated in his home accompanied by a can of root beer. Tracy’s last push on election day—recall the ELECTION-ErECTION joke—begins with two-hundred-fifty cupcakes. Jim, in what Payne calls “a cheap joke,” pops the cork from a bottle of wine between his legs as he gazes at Linda; and he stocks the room at the “American Family Motel” with candy and champagne in anticipation of continuing an affair with her. (Ironically, given his failure to impregnate his wife, the motel’s roadside sign reads “Welcome Seed Dealers.”) En route to his pornographic video, Jim grabs a can of Pepsi; watching and sipping, he remembers Tracy’s remark, “You know, Coca-Cola is by far the world’s number one soft drink.” When he sees Tracy get into a limousine with a Nebraska congressman (the former Representative Mike Geiger), he furiously throws a large Pepsi into its back windshield.

4. Dirty Garbage

The first food we see in Election is tossed into a garbage can by Mr. M. Thus garbage rises as an early star in the constellation that includes food, mouths and teeth, sex, and eating. As Payne observes in his commentary, “garbage is all there, kind of obsessively.” After cleaning out the refrigerator, Mr. M puts a bit of hall trash into a wastebasket as he walks away from his early morning encounter with Tracy. Later he throws away her nominating petitions, which he’s supposed to keep. Both acts anticipate his disposing of her two crucial votes.

Mr. M is associated with, even pursued by, garbage. When he is confronted by his accusers in the principal’s office, we see the sullen face of the janitor among them; immediately, Payne flashes back to the fatal spaghetti hitting the floor while the janitor watches.

It is not just rotting that transforms food into garbage. Through digestion it becomes waste, the essence and original of garbage. Election signals the membership of excrement in its complex imagery by backgrounds of urinals in a couple of scenes, by Jim’s urinating on a tree in Linda’s front yard just after a red garbage truck goes by, and by what Payne calls “a pooping cement truck” on a sign during Paul’s “Mexican Party.”

Elias Canetti, in his magisterial Crowds and Power, considers the processes of power as summarized by the primitive sequence that begins with sighting and seizing prey, continues through its incorporation, and ends in its final mortification as excrement. Two aspects of his analysis are especially relevant to Election: First, he observes the connection between teeth and power: “… the manifest attributes of the teeth, have entered into the very nature of power. … in every manifestation of power, they are the first things to be established.”(6) Second, the exercise of power on something or someone concludes when “everything useful is abstracted from it till all that remains is refuse and stench.” (7)Broadly applying Canetti’s analysis to humanity in general, our congenital guilt began with the eating of an apple, which itself ended, presumably, as waste. “It is our daily and continuing sin and, as such, it stinks and cries to heaven.” (8)When Jim, the prey, and his predator wife divorce, Diane gets their house and “almost everything,” leaving Jim with only his dismal subcompact auto. (9) During Jim’s voice-over at this point, Payne notes revealingly that on the accompanying visual Jim is “pursued by garbage to the end.”

Along with Mr. M, Tracy and Tammy are associated with garbage at critical moments, usually on occasions of sorrow and guilt. Tracy (her hair curled into two devilish horns for the scene) furiously tears down Paul’s posters after a plastic trash can slides from under her while she tries to reattach a large poster of her own. From behind trash bins, the jilted Tammy spies on her former lover and her brother kissing, and she witnesses Tracy disposing of Paul’s destroyed posters in the dumpster behind the power plant—a bit of good fortune of an ironic kind that allows her to plead guilty to Tracy’s crime, get herself expelled from Carver, and enroll in the local Catholic school for girls.

Garbage, the outcome of human sin and waste, cannot be easily (or perhaps ever) fully cleaned up. Water washes without efficacy in Election because it is associated in the film with one of the causes of human misery that goes back to The Garden, sex. The sound of the athletic field sprinkler that we hear before any image appears on the screen could be considered mildly suggestive only in retrospect, but the image of the nozzle that solves the brief mystery of the sound is emphatically phallic. Nor is water associated solely with male sexuality. Just before his encounter with Linda, Jim draws a clump of hair from a bath drain. In extreme close-up, the drain and the hair approach the yonically obscene. “There’s your problem,” Mr. M announces, presciently. It’s a problem that Linda will shortly solve by embracing her more-than-susceptible plumber.

For Jim, however, the temporary solution of Linda’s problems compounds his in ways that can’t be washed away. After readying the motel room, Jim crouches in the bathtub, washing his genitals. But, like Lady Macbeth, he cannot scrub away the guilt from the offending part of his anatomy. Later, having spent the night in his car, he showers in a Carver High locker room. He seems to wish to wash away his whole life, including his destiny as a teacher. Railing, he mocks student requests for letters of recommendation and other favours; then, “Fuck them!” But that, or imagining that, is another part of the problem. When Mr. M, after his escape to New York City, sees Tracy and the Congressman, he describes his anger with a verb that evokes the uncleansing waters elsewhere in the film: “It all came flooding back.”

A close-up of Tracy’s paper-cut bloody hands after her destructive frenzy makes a clear reference to Lady Macbeth, a reference that Payne did not feel he needed to further emphasize in a scene that showed Tracy strenuously washing her hands, which he cut form the final version of his film. Mr. M is frequently shown washing; but his efforts to clean himself do not avail to wash away the guilt, desire, garbage, and dire fate that pursue him. Washing his car as “It’s a Beautiful Day” plays on the soundtrack, Jim views his life as “back on track,” looks forward to reuniting with Diane, and assures himself that “the worst was over.” All this optimism precedes immediately the summons to the principal’s office that completes the demolition of his existence in Omaha.

5. Inconclusive Love

An historic, generally misogynistic tradition interprets Eve’s seduction by the Serpent as the original sexual infidelity and as the model for all those that follow. Both our original parents discover shame in the nakedness of their genitals after their initial transgression. Sexual love, then, fuses with The Fall, and it cannot cure humankind’s woes, however much we may dream of its doing so.

Here below, as the French say, we are stuck with our frail, sinful nature; we can hope for salvation only through some heavenly intervention, which the characters of Election attempt to attribute to earthly love. Tammy and Paul each use the same word, “miracle,” to describe their amorous times with Lisa. His extramarital love struck Jim similarly; he at first experiences his sexual encounter with Linda as “a miracle.” While Linda’s infant son watches from his crib, however, his mother and his godfather copulate on the floor in front of him; and he becomes a classically Freudian witness to the ongoing dangers and pains of post-Edenic erotic love.

“For Homecoming,” Paul reminds Mr. M, “you know how last year’s theme was ‘Heaven on Earth’ ….” Mr. M cuts him off. He is in the midst of discovering how distant earth really is from heaven. “As for the earthly paradise,” wrote Northrop Frye, “according to Christian doctrine it was, but it cannot now be; consequently in romance the paradisal is frequently a deceitful illusion that turns out to be demonic or a destructive vision.” (10)

A quotation from William Trevor preceding the novel by Tom Perrotta on which Election is (rather loosely) based may be the book’s most significant contribution to understanding the movie: “The world is School gone mad.” If Mr. M. takes Carver High to be his Garden, when it goes mad his earth tilts on its axis and he is thrown into the postlapsarian world. Of course, he has already been dwelling there, a fact that his naïve optimism largely concealed from him.

To return to the question with which this discussion began: Stuck in the world east of Eden, is Jim helplessly destined for ruin or does he bring catastrophes on himself through failures of morals and ethics? Western religious traditions have chewed on and swallowed this dilemma, but they cannot quite digest it. The most dubious tenet of Milton’s “Great Argument” in Paradise Lost, for example, is that God made humankind “Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall.” (11)Given His omniscience (He knew what would happen but it could, somehow, have happened otherwise), this attempt to rationalize the contradictions between destiny and free choice has not persuaded many readers. Election doesn’t try for such a reconciliation of opposites. It sets them forth and leaves them in their intrinsic tension. In perhaps the most illuminating of his comments, Payne discusses the conclusion of his film: “It’s honest in suggesting that things really don’t change in our lives, that we think we’ve moved on but actually we don’t or we can’t, ’cause we are who we are.”

Like Citizen RuthElection is ultimately radical in its ironies. Its dilemmas of character, fate, freedom, and the compromised energies powering the human universe remain irresolvable as evidence piles up on all sides of every issue. The two songs accompanying the closing credits extend the central ironies of the movie. The lyrics of the first declare, “I wanna go to school again, I wanna know how love began … if you’ll be the teacher.” We have seen how unqualified Mr. M is to give such lessons, and nothing in Election suggests that anyone else would be better prepared. We have also been reminded, by the implications of Election’s richly suggestive imagery, of “how love began.” The second musical accompaniment to the credits, an accordion piece, contributes its irony more subtly. To appreciate it, one needs to notice its title in the music credits: “God Whispers to Constantine.”

Endnotes

  1. He says this in the “audio commentary” of the DVD of Election, Paramount/Viacom 36121, referring to the “many, many, many same people” he worked with on both films: the production designer, editor, composer, assistant cameraman, prop master, grips and electricians, and so on. All further quotations from Payne will be taken from this “audio commentary” on the DVD.
  2. As I argued in “Revisiting Citizen Ruth,” Film International, May, 2011, that expansion rippled out from the conflicts around a local fight over abortion, to the question of abortion in the U. S. generally, and then further outward into broad implied commentary on the contemporary culture of the United States.
  3. Aristotle, Poetics (trans. Hippocrates G. Apostle, Elizabeth A. Dobbs, Morris A. Parslow). Grinnell, Iowa: The Peripatetic Press, 1990.
  4. Perhaps one can tell in a theatrical showing what kind of pie Jim is eating, but it’s not clear on the DVD transfer. Nonetheless, Payne’s remark is suggestive: “… the apples have been crushed and cooked. This sounds stupid, but anyway it means something to me.”
  5. Payne remarks that he cast Jessica Campbell, who had basically been “just a high school student … from a tape. I didn’t even meet her. I loved her braces.”
  6. Canetti, Elias. Crowds and Power (trans. Carol Stewart). New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1962, 1973, p.208.
  7. Ibid, p.211
  8. Ibid, p.211
  9. In the “audio commentary,” Payne calls it a “Ford Festiva, the car of an impotent man.”
  10. Frye, Northrop. The Secular Scripture: A Study of the Structure of Romance. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1978, p.98.
  11. Milton, John. Complete Poems and Major Prose (Edited by Merritt Y. Hughes). New York: The Odyssey Press, 1957, p. 260

About The Author

Lesley Brill is Professor of Film and English at Wayne State University in Detroit, USA. He has published books on Alfred Hitchcock, John Huston, and Crowds, Power, and Transformation in Cinema (Wayne State UP, 2006).