“Candidate” Screenwriter Sheds Light on Political Process

It is usually a testament to the talent of a filmmaker when a film is as relevant and potent four decades after its creation as it was when it was first released. The case could be made that the 1972 political satire “The Candidate,” starring Robert Redford, endures because it is a well acted, well directed and exceptionally written piece of cinema (It did win an Oscar for Best Screenplay, after all). However, another theory could be proposed regarding the film’s enduring relevancy: political stagnation.

This is not lost on the film’s screenwriter, Jeremy Larner, who earned an Academy Award for his work Jeremy Larner at the Rheem Theater on “The Candidate.” Appearing October 17 at a screening of the movie at Rheem Theater sponsored by Saint Mary’s College, Larner said, “I was very struck that the issues haven’t changed in 40 years. The conditions are the same too.”

Larner’s opus chronicles the corruption of an idealistic young politician, Bill McKay (Redford), running for the U.S. Senate from California. As his campaign intensifies, McKay loses himself, compromise by compromise, until, in the end, he is a person unrecognizable even to himself.

Watching the film just a few weeks before a presidential election, it is hard not to empathize with the screenwriter’s statements. The same talking points that Redford’s character emptily recites are nearly identical to the ones President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney argue over nightly; abortion, immigration, welfare, crime, poverty.

One sees shadows, too, of disgraced politicians in the vein of John Edwards and Eliot Spitzer, once heralded as game-changing figures, who revealed themselves as less than admirable.

The 75-year-old Larner, an Orinda resident and Renaissance man (novelist, screenwriter, journalist, political speechwriter), spoke for nearly an hour after the screening, prompted by questions from Saint Mary’s communication professor Father Mike Russo.

As Larner fielded questions from the audience and mused on everything from campaign slogans, such as Obama’s “Forward” (“What does that even mean?”) to the debates (“Romney got away with a lot of unchecked lies”), the wit and intelligence present in his movie were still evident, and his message was just as on target as in 1972. 

By Christian Martinez ’13