Review: 11/8/16 (2017)
Oh what a pitiful little elegy to shattered expectations this is. Presented merely as historical document, 11/8/16 is perfectly adequate. It’s a slice-of-life documentary directed by 18 different filmmakers that recounts Election Day 2016 as it played out in over a dozen different parts of the country. It starts in the morning when Democrats were confident Clinton would sweep into power and ends after midnight when those same Democrats were dejected messes and the few Trump supporters documented by the film were invigorated.
None of this is new, and coming after the past 12 months, when we’ve dissected every aspect of the 2016 election from every possible angle and Trump seeps into every conservation, no matter how disconnected from politics it is, this film is completely unnecessary. We know what happened on 11/8/16. We were there. We remember. Everyone does.
Setting aside the question of necessity, 11/8/16 is dishonest as a work of nonfiction. For one, the curating filmmaker, Duane Anderson, who organized the project and was responsible for editing, doesn’t even attempt objectivity when it comes to documenting the Trump supporters, such as a small-business owner in Boston or a war vet suffering from PTSD in Florida. In the Boston scenes, the editing narrows on the fallacious arguments the man and his wife use to justify supporting Trump, leaving us to wonder if there’s anything else to these people beyond their politics.
Similarly, in the Florida scenes, the segment’s director even verbally challenges the vet’s support of Trump from behind the camera, saying, “But he’s a dick,” as if the man isn’t aware. At least Anderson left in the man’s response: “But the government are dicks, and don’t you need a dick to deal with them?” That reply says a lot more about why people misguidedly voted Trump than most of the rest of this film does.
It’s also distracting that the filmmakers allow the subjects to craft clearly misrepresentative versions of themselves. For instance, we’re often forced to watch spouses share hugs, kisses, and proclamations of love when one is heading off to work; it all scans as completely false. In other moments, characters rhapsodize about how much they love Hillary, as if they’re trying to convince the people behind the camera to share their views, instead of merely being themselves. It all seems highly performative. That Anderson included this sort of footage in the final version of 11/8/16 shows that he’s not interested in genuine portraits of ordinary Americans; he wanted types—characters—who could perform the same narrative we’ve been spoonfed about the 2016 Election hundreds of times before.
In fact, the whole film seems like a performance, as if acting out the mess that was Election Day 2016 will provide some catharsis. But it teaches the same blinkered lessons as the ones that produced Trump in the first place: liberals are arrogant, earnest do-gooders and conservatives are stupid and selfish. There’s no good reason for 11/8/16 to exist in this moment, beyond our obsessive need to relive past trauma with no desire to learn from it.
Of course, the fact that I watched 11/8/16 is telling. Even as I’m critical of our modern political carnival and the impulses that feed it, I can’t help but keep watching the news, reading the articles, and listening to the podcasts. Or watching this movie. Even I am not immune to wallowing in the filthy past, so at least the film has that going for it.
It knows its audience. It knows we’re suckers.
4 out of 10
11/8/16 (2017, USA)
Directed by Duane Anderson, Don Argott, Yung CHang, Garth Donovan, Petra Epperlein, Vikram Gandhi, Raul Gasteazoro, J.Goncalves, Andrew Grace, Alma Har’el, Sheena M. Joyce, Daniel Junge, Alison Klayman, Ciara Lacy, Martha Shane, Elaine McMillion Sheldon, Bassam Tariq, Michael Tucker.