Recount: Worth a Watch

Perhaps it's only because I actually lived in Broward County, Florida for 10 years of my life (including during the 2000 election, though I was not yet old enough to vote), but I found HBO's original film Recount, which premiered on Sunday, to be completely fascinating. This really is impressive, considering we knew exactly how the film would end before it even began. Whether a Democrat or a Republican, a Bush or a Gore supporter during that election, I think a person can learn a lot from watching this film, or in the very least have a lot to think about.

It is certainly possible that both Bush and Gore supporters will find this movie infuriating - Bush supporters because the film comes from an undeniably Democratic perspective (with Republicans perhaps vilified more than necessary, I admit) and Gore supporters because the film obviously is digging up old wounds.

For this reason, I think it's important to remember that the film openly admits that it's a dramatization. We should accept that the film is not entirely factual and not waste time dwelling on all of its inaccuracies (or omissions or creative license that was taken) in the retelling of the 2000 recount. If we do this, then we can instead focus our energies on considering the questions that the film raises, which are legitimate, and truly thought-provoking.

These questions include but are not limited to: Is the intent to vote (i.e. a dimpled chad) enough to count something as a vote? What happens when a person in a position of considerable power (Katharine Harris) is allowed to make decisions that they are probably not qualified to make? Can a person in a position of power truly make an unbiased decision when they have their own personal agenda? Why would the Supreme Court state that their final decision stopping the recount applied only to this single instance? What would have happened had the entire statewide recount been completed? Would Bush have still won? Would Gore have won? Different studies have claimed different things again depending on whether or not dimpled chad were counted as votes (and as I learned from the film, the plural of chad is in fact chad - not the often utilized chads). Finally, of course, though slightly more indirectly, would this country be profoundly different today if Gore had ended up taking the presidency in 2000?

The cast of Recount was all superb, particularly Laura Dern as Florida's Secretary of State, Katharine Harris (though I can only hope that her incompetency was to some extent exaggerated, Dern did a great job of capturing it). Kevin Spacey, Tom Wilkinson, Ed Begley, Jr., Bob Balaban and Denis Leary also star. Interestingly, the film was written by Danny Strong, who some of you may remember more as Jonathan Levinson on Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Doyle on Gilmore Girls; I had no idea he was also a writer until I saw his name in the credits. By the way, my favorite line in the movie was, "It's like Night of the Living Bubbies" - when a character was referencing what is more or less the essence of the population of Palm Beach County.

For me, though again a person could potentially find the film to be depressing, I finished watching with a sense of optimism. One can only hope that we have learned from our mistakes and taken the appropriate steps to ensure that an election will never get so mucked up again (changing and standardizing ballots, etc.). Secondly, especially as a young person, I think this film reminds us all that no matter what we think that the ultimate difference in votes between the two candidates was, that taking the time to vote does or at least can make a difference when an election is incredibly close - especially since there will never be another hanging or dimpled chad again.


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Jan 20, 2009 8:51AM EST

This is a great evaluation of this film.
I would go one step further and say, that its unfortunate that Bush and Gore did not agree on a complete re-election for the state of Florida. The supreme court even thought there basically needed a full re-count which cries out that they should have made a stand and made law and insist on a re-election for hte state. With the utter chaos that was going on does anyone really think a legitimate trustworthy re-count could have happened?
It saddens me to think, beyond not knowing who REALLY won in the 2000 election, that this same political and legal mess could happen again. I really don't believe that enough steps have been taken to avoid it. The legal battle, which basically saw the supreme courts point of view squashed by politics and dirty play, questions if there really is a way to hold a fair and democrat election in the face of counting errors. There are so many points of view.
I wonder what Bush thought when he saw this film??? I find it hard to believe that some-ones lust for power would stop them when its the highest level of power doing the right thing. Its a shallow victory and, although he went on to serve 8 years in office, there must be a part of him thinking it might be a fraud that I ever took office.
Lastly, there is another question raised in the film that, if true, is astounding - did they really turn away people because they had names similar to convicted felons?! WHich regardless of the actual counting errors points to a more profound issue.....if we can not give upstanding citizens their legal right to have their say by voting how can we ever call ourselves a true democracy......
This is a brilliant portrayal, regardless of the creative liberties that might have been taken , that really gets you thinking.

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