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