By Pegah Tarkhooni
Released in 2020, Election Night is a short film directed by Peter Zerzan which revolves around the 2018 midterm congress elections that occurred during the presidency of Republican Donald Trump. The election was significant since it saw several electoral first for women, racial minorities and even LGBT candidates and ended the federal trifecta that the Republican Party had established in the 2016 elections. The film has a cast of three including Brennan Pickman- Thoon and happens in a campaign office on 2018 election night. As a freelance writer and an organizer of mostly political events, Zerzan has brought his professional background to this short film creating a motivational atmosphere.
Election Night has a linear story line that hugely hinges on the conversation between Barbara, a veteran organizer, and Mahoney, a rookie organizer, on election night 2018. After the last volunteers leave the cluttered campaign office, Barbara and Mahoney who support a Democrat candidate, Susan Andreeson, have some time alone to share their views on politics and religion discussing their hopes, regrets, and apprehensions. Assuming a mentor-like role Barbara gives Mahoney some advice on managing volunteers and some insight into what one of the volunteers had briefly referred to earlier about which Mahoney feels baffled. They both reveal aspects of their personal lives as well in the course of the conversation. The film comes to a close with a victory speech.
We are immediately ushered into the universe of the film through its clever use of sound effects that consists of a pastiche of radio elections news fragments being interfered at the beginning by some radio noise that finally fades into victorious crowd roars. This authentic use of sound design helps immerse the audience in the coming story and is compatible with the general theme. What comes next is a sequence of a close-up of a white board indicating the election date and a digital clock showing the time, a full shot of Mahoney back to the office after seeing the last volunteer and a medium close-up of Barbara. This sequence very well conveys the setting and introduces the characters who start their long conversation through which the main themes of the film are explored and more personality is added to characters.
As an African-American female and the son of an immigrant couple, Barbara and Mahoney can represent the underrepresented minorities of the American society who were denied a voice more than ever under the Republican President, Donald Trump.
Barbara has devoted the last decade of her life to working on campaigns, choosing a nomadic lifestyle over a permanent job and a steady relationship and can be the embodiment of what Bill the Deacon, one of the volunteers, has referred to: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith" (2 Timothy 4:7). She wistfully reminisces on Obama’s victory night in a medium shot, an enormous poster of Andreeson’s name behind her as if it is encouraging her to “fight the good fight” and keep “the faith,” and pursue her dreams that seem to correspond with the ideals of the American Dream. Her reference to Bush’s administration as messing up “this country” along with the resentful glance she darts towards Trump speaking on TV suggest that she believes Trump and his party have betrayed those ideals.
The American Dream has its roots in the Declaration of Independence which declares "all men are created equal" with the right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." This freedom must incorporate equal opportunities for prosperity and success and an upward social mobility achieved by hard work and regardless of one’s race or gender. Republicans’ social and economic conservatism, imposing restrictions on immigration, abortion, labor unions, and environmental regulations, on the one hand, and promoting free-market capitalism, military spending, and gun rights, on the other, may be perceived as detrimental to those ideals. Trump’s policies backed by the republican party further aggravated the difficult circumstances and thus led to the highest voter turnouts in 2018 midterm elections since 1914.
The urgent need to “fight the good fight” and make a change has drawn even the less experienced Mahoney to the campaign, too. Although he has totally dropped religion, he has retained the rosary his mother has given him since she thinks he would need it more if the same thing that happened on the 2016 Presidential Elections is going to happen again. When Barbara confirms this battle can actually get “unbearable” and is asked seriously by Mahoney why she does this several times, the film reaches its climax. Andreeson’s victory speech which is addressed to a diversity of people and seems to furnish a checklist of American Dream ideals not yet lived up to, provides the best answer. This speech that comes in the form a monologue solidly confirms the social and political themes that Election Night develops.
Another theme effectively embedded in the social and political themes of the short film is: “we are the choices we make”. As existentialism puts it, we are fully responsible for not only “the direction our own lives take, but also for the way the world around us appears,” and we have “no excuses behind us nor justifications before us.” Consequently, if people, from Mahoney to Bill the Deacon, want any kind of reform, they must take active part.
In my opinion what makes Election Night a worthwhile watch is the dialogue. The film gets clichéd at some points of the final speech, but what the calculated conversation between the characters does in facilitating the story, conveying the themes, and revealing characters is remarkable.