instincts. Don’t think.” Feelings good,rnreason bad. Me Tarzan, you mentallyrnfrazzled nerd.rnI must confess I’m under orders fromrnmy own nine-year-old Liam to say nicernthings about George Lucas’s movie. Sornlet me doff my critic’s cap and admit thatrnthe movie is fun. No, it’s not the achievementrnthe first installment was. Yes, itsrnplot is a tortured mess, and the acting isrnperfunctory at best. But those special effects!rnThey’re simply amazing. Theyrncram the screen imtil you have nornchoice. You surrender, bedazzled intornsubmission. As for what’s going on, it’srnanybody’s guess. Here’s mine. The Federation,rna supergalactic trade associationrnunder the sway of Darth Sidious, wants tornimpose a tax on commerce across thernknown universe. The Republic sendsrnhvo Jedi knights to investigate, but theyrnmeet resistance from a villainous viceroyrnwho, despite his green skin, speaks Englishrnwith a sinister Chinese accent. IsrnLucas expressing his displeasure with thernIRS and Asian commercial practices?rnWell, why shouldn’t he? It’s his film.rnAs usual with Lucas, it’s the simplernwho are pure of heart. Remember thernEwoks? Here, the Jedi fight against laserrnguns and high-tech battle droids withrnnothing more than light sabers. Wernknow their allies, the lizard-like Gungans,rnare a decent lot because they go tornwar armed with slingshots, catapults, andrnother labor-intensive weapons. I was surprisedrnthey weren’t equipped with bowsrnand arrows. Perhaps Lucas isn’t that politicallyrncorrect.rnThere have been complaints thatrnAnakin is supposed to be the issue of a virginrnbirth. This, together with the film’srnincessant invocation of the pantheisticrnForce, has led to speculation that Lucasrnmay be cynically mining religiousrnthemes to give his romance an unearnedrnmythic aura. This seems too harsh. Lucasrnis, after all, a fan of Joseph Campbell.rnAnd how many modern novels can yournname that don’t weave references tornmyth and religion into their symbolicrnfabric? Let’s think positively. Although Irnteach at an officially Roman Catholicrnuniversity, few of my students —I’d sayrnabout 20 percent—can explain what isrnmeant by the doctrine of the Incarnafion.rnConsolingly, those who can are, as oftenrnas not, Jewish or Asian. I think we shouldrnthank Lucas for providing us with an occasionrnto discuss the religious and culturalrnimplications of the Virgin Birth.rnI’ve been accusing the films under reviewrnwith an anti-rational bias, but there’srnnothing inherently wrong with trustingrnour instincts now and again. It’s the paradoxrnof the medium that interests me.rnOur most technically based, scientificallyrndemanding art, film nevertheless registersrnon its audience with a far greater visceralrnimpact than any other medium. It’srnnot like reading a book or looking at arnpainting. There’s no time to reflect onrnfilm as we experience it. It sweeps over usrnwith a visual and aural immediacy thatrnall too easily drowns intellectual distinctions.rnNo wonder directors lean towardrnthe sensational. It’s the medium’s distinctiverndifference. Then there’s thernquesfion of audience. To jusfify its hugernexpense, even a modest film must lurerntens of millions into the theaters. It’s notrnlikely that they will all be intellectuallyrncurious. Filmmakers know their audience,rnand they know it pays to flatter it.rnThat’s why most movies strongly suggestrnthat life is easy to understand and successrndoesn’t require that you ace your physicsrnexam. Simple is better. The problem,rnobviously, is that such bias stifles the developmentrnof more thoughtful works.rnThat is why Alexander Payne’s Electionrnis so welcome. For those who haverntired of smarmy tributes to our naturalrngoodness. Election’s evident disgust withrnhumanity will come as a positive tonic.rnThis movie is that rare thing in our alternatelyrnsappy and sullen popular culture,rna genuinely Swiftian satire, relentlesslyrndetermined to expose the folly and knaveryrnof our species. No one is flattered, nornone is spared.rnYou wouldn’t think a high-school studentrnelection campaign would bernpromising material for a film, but Paynernmakes it a parable for our shamelesslyrnme-first times. Tracy Flick —ReesernWitherspoon in a career-making performancern—is running for president, andrnshe is splendidly qualified. Perfectrngrades, bottomless reserves of energy, politicallyrncorrect on every issue, supremelyrnorganized, she reminds you of whatrnHillary Clinton must have been at thernsame age. But her flawless persona disguisesrnanother, far less enchanting,rnyoung lady—a manipuladve cheat whornseduces her math teacher, Dave, andrncalmly watches as both his career andrnmarriage disintegrate in the aftermath.rnAlthough Dave’s reputation is ruined,rnTracy emerges from the scandal untarnishedrnand, more revealingly, untroubled.rnIn a memorably chilly scene, therncamera watches over her shoulder as shernuses a computer graphics program to sniprnher former lover’s image from a photographrnshe’s preparing for the yearbook.rnShe performs the amputation as calmlyrnas a young Stalinist sending an inconvenientrnassociate down the memory hole.rnTracy’s social studies teacher andrnDave’s best friend, Jim McAllister, decidesrnto intervene to everyone’s edifyingrndiscomfiture. Matthew Broderick playsrnMcAllister as an unstable amalgam ofrnslow-footed cunning, nearly desperaternnaivete, and profound self-delusion. Asrnhe tells us in his ingenuous voice-overrnnarration, he never wanted to be anythingrnother than a teacher impartingrnknowledge and wisdom to young people.rnUnfortunately, he possesses precious littlernof either. While he takes pride in hisrnsunny reasonableness, he is in thrall tornhis conflicted emotions. When we firstrnmeet him, he’s asking his civics class torndistinguish between morals and ethics.rnHe calls on several students who haltinglyrntry to answer his question. Despiterntheir reluctance, he studiously ignoresrnTracy’s eagerly raised hand. He knowsrnshe has the answer, but he doesn’t want tornhear it from her. His sense of fair playrnbows to his grudge against this adolescentrnCirce. It’s bad enough she brought hisrncolleague low. What’s worse is that, althoughrnhe despises her (or perhaps becausernhe does), he finds himself lustingrnafter her.rnMcAllister’s ethical lapses are part of arnpattern of moral deficiencies. After thernerring Dave leaves his wife, Linda, andrntheir infant, McAllister takes time awayrnfrom his own wife to help the distraughtrnwoman. After clearing her bathroomrndrain one day, he turns to other plumbingrnneeds. As he and Linda tumble to thernliving room floor in erotic urgency, therncamera follows their descent at a discreetrndistance, finally shooting their writhingrnforms through the bars of the playpen inrnwhich Linda’s toddler is standing. It’s arndisti^irbing image. On the sound track wernhear McAllister, as reasonable as ever, explainingrnthat their feelings took them byrnsurprise. But we know better. We’ve alreadyrnseen that they’ve been maneuveringrnin this direction for some time.rn”What had blossomed between Lindarnand me was too real” to be denied, McAllisterrnrhapsodizes. Sure.rnThis sour coimterpoint between narrationrnand action runs through the film,rncreating intersections at which reasonrnand impulse collide. In their voice-overrncommentaries, the characters give them-rnSEPTEMBER 1999/43rnrnrn