Spoiler Alert: Ides of March is About What Now?

This post contains massive spoilers for Ides of March. You’ve been warned.

Ryan Gosling and Evan Rachel Wood sitting in a car
This so should have been on the movie poster.

I saw Ides of March over the weekend and it was not what I expected at all. What I expected: Hot guys being charming in a fast-paced political thriller. What it is: Hot guys being jerks in a downer movie with an arguably anti-abortion message.

I’m assuming that, if you’ve read past the spoiler alerts, you’ve seen this movie, so I’ll keep the recap very brief. Ryan Gosling is Stephen Meyers, an idealistic campaign manager working for George Clooney’s Mike Morris. Meyers has sex with go-getter intern Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood) and then learns that she also had sex with Morris (a married presidential hopeful) and that she is pregnant (by Morris, not Meyers). Meyers schedules an abortion for Stearns and she goes through with it, seemingly at his request. Later that same day, Stearns fears that the story will be leaked and Morris will lose the Democratic nomination because of her abortion, and she overdoses on pain medication in an apparent suicide. Meyers comes to her room and steals her phone to blackmail Morris. And scene.

First things first: I don’t know about you, but I had no idea that this was what the movie was about! I’m all for keeping some mystery in movie trailers, but I also think audiences should have some idea of what they’re in for if it’s something potentially triggering like a traumatic abortion-suicide. Maybe that’s just me.

Now, some of the handling of the abortion itself, while jarring and difficult to watch, struck me as pretty realistic. Morris is a powerful politician with a reputation on the line, and unfortunately his clout trumps anything Stearns might be going through in the minds of the campaign staffers. She is clearly shaken and upset when Meyers drops her off at the clinic, but goes through with the abortion because she’s (understandably) afraid of what might happen if she doesn’t (or even if she waits and schedules it on her own time). Though seriously depressing (as was most of the movie), this seems like what might happen to a young pregnant woman in a campaign of this magnitude.

However, the Stearns character started the film as a plucky young intern with great ideas and a lot of promise. She then became a plot device, used to convince us of the depths that (white, male) politicians will stoop to to get electoral votes. The film’s (or should I say Clooney’s, since he adapted, directed, and starred in it) message is problematic—that if you have an abortion you will be cast out and vilified and your only option will be death at your own hand—because it reduced Stearns to a cautionary tale. Why did she have to commit suicide? Couldn’t she have lived and remained an actual person in the movie? In the end, her death was about Meyers, since he used it as an opportunity to further his political career—just like Clooney used Evan Rachel Wood to further the plot of his film.

I can’t help but think that if more abortion/reproductive rights/ladies-having-sex stories were written by women (this one was written by three men and based on a play also written by a man) we’d see more nuanced and interesting onscreen representations of plots like this one. Maybe the intern character could have the abortion and then go on to have her own political career? Or maybe we could at least see things from her perspective for two seconds before she is killed off so that we can focus on the men?

Though I appreciated Ides of March’s dark take on the nasty, white-male-dominated world of political campaigns, its treatment of women seemed unnecessarily harsh and dismissive. Morris and Meyers may have treated Stearns as disposable, but the filmmakers shouldn’t have, and we as viewers shouldn’t have to either.

by Kelsey Wallace
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Kelsey Wallace is an editor in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter if you like TV and pictures of dogs.

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12 Comments Have Been Posted

It wasn't a very good movie.

It was slow and not at all clever and all the women were plot points not characters (even the reporter) but I do need to correct you. Molly wanted the abortion before Stephen even got involved, she had been calling Morris so she could get the money for the abortion. Also, SHE made the appointment, Stephen just said he would give her a ride and pay for it. At the clinic he did take her copy of all the paper work but I imagine that was because he didn't want her to be able to leak the story. But I don't think it was particularly anti abortion, She wanted the abortion. My sister and I saw it the weekend before last and we both were really confused shy she killed herself. She thought that Stephen was going to go to the press because he had been fired but then she left the message saying "I'm not going away!". So yeah, dumb movie but she wasn't forced to have an abortion, it was her idea.

Good point!

Thanks, edgy! You're right about Molly wanting the abortion, although if I remember correctly Stephen ordered her to make the appointment (and I got the sense that she was unsure about it but felt trapped). As far as the movie itself having an anti-abortion message, I read it as such because the character who gets an abortion ends up dead (because the abortion was so shameful and terrible), not because they tiptoed around the topic.

I agree that the point of the

<p>I agree that the point of the movie is about the cut-throat politics that occur in our democratic system. But, Molly's story definitely trumped that overall theme. As a long-time pro-choice advocate, it continues to sadden me to see the disturbing conficted environment in which women have to make this difficult decision. But, afterwards - lonliness, isolation, anger - yes. Suicide - I just don't get it. While I fully appreciate the portrayal of a how difficult this decision is for the vast majority of women, the notion of being so distraught that suicide is the only way out just doesn't make sense. The abortion itself argues against it. She MADE the big decision. Suicide isn't the next logical step in any arena.</p>

I didn't like it either.

I disagree. The abortion was not her choice. The keyword here is free will.
For ease in my argument let's remove her from the politico atmosphere. In most states one can acquire an abortion easiest within the first trimester. So technically, if she was not going to have the money right away to have an abortion then she has three months to acquire it. And if at anytime during that three months she changed her mind, she could have easily "avoided suicide" and kept the baby.
She wanted the abortion because she understood there was no other option. Her parents were Catholic and she could neither tell them about the out of wedlock child nor ask for abortion money.

This movie was difficult to

This movie was difficult to watch, but I don't share your objections. Yes, women in the film were used as plot devices rather than actual characters, and it's frustrating; but that's also a tremendously accurate representation of most campaigns. (Not saying that this isn't a problem- women definitely need to be better represented in politics) I came away from it thinking that it (indirectly) made a pretty decent argument for more widely available and affordable abortions. If Molly had been able to afford the abortion of her own accord, without going through her parents or the campaign, there would have been no conflict and she could have avoided every telling anyone about the pregnancy. Instead, because abortions are unaffordable, women are forced into unhealthy situations (Molly's relationship with Stephen), and it's bad for society as a whole (the downfall of Morris's campaign)

Excellent response!

It's funny how seemingly, anti-choice movies produce such a strong argument for better access to affordable abortions.

I have to argue that I don't

I have to argue that I don't actually think the movie is about Stearns, abortion, or suicide, and ultimately, that was my biggest problem with it. Others have said this, as well, so maybe I don't have to, but I felt pretty strongly about this movie, in ways that made me feel conflicted.

The movie was about men, politics, and manipulation. It just happened that the device around which they centered the manipulation happened to be a woman, and an abortion. Women are not characters in this movie, not at all. That was really brought home to me at the end, when a new, young intern arrives on the scene: It's as though young women in this movie are just filler, tokens, another blank young face with long hair to come in and bring the coffee. Oh, it irked.

I'm also not convinced Molly committed suicide. I don't think that's every explicitly stated, and the combination of the conclusion that it was an accidental overdose with her message saying she's NOT going away leads me to conclude (shakily, and I think that's intentional) that it was an accident.

So, why am I conflicted? Because I genuinely enjoyed the movie. I thought it was very well done. But argh, with the lack of women in any substantive, human role. Why do we always have to be empty cyphers around which important men play games?

Oh and...

You asked why this wasn't in the trailers, why there wasn't anything to indicate this was going to be a key plot device? I'd argue it's because the creators and marketers of the movie a) didn't think it was what the movie was really about, and b) didn't want it to appear to be a movie about abortion or women.

(Also, my apologies for the fairly incoherent arguments above about Molly's did-she-or-didn't-she suicide.)

Totally agree.

I agree, Laura, if this movie had been marketed as a thriller that hinged on abortion and possible suicide, it would've been harder to sell. Hollywood thinks we don't want to see women's stories, which is why they're often treated as afterthoughts (which is what Molly's story felt like to me).

I really liked elements of this movie too, which makes talking about it even more complicated! In a good way though.

It's also explicitly

It's also explicitly mentioned in the movie that both she and her father are practicing Catholics - a religion that considers abortion a shameful and sinful act.


Did you watch the movie, or pay attention after the abortion happened, or did you just focus on this thought and block out the rest? If anything caused her to commit suicide it was the shame she would have felt for having an affair with a married man, having an abortion, and having her father (who was well entrenched in politics as she had mentioned) reputation tarnished. If anything, it showed how much abortion can be a wedge issue, or how the media would take an affair or an abortion and use it to ruin so many lives.

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