The Atlantic‘s Mark Bowden takes a pretty thorough look at Mitt, Netflix’s recently-released documentary covering Mitt Romney’s two presidential campaigns. I watched it recently and found it, if not an incredible documentary, nonetheless a fascinating one. This observation in Bowden’s piece jumped out at me:
Granted, Mitt is a busy man, but nowhere in any shot in the hour-and-a-half long film is he ever seen reading a book, a magazine, a newspaper, a Kindle, an iPad … anything. We see him once tapping away on a laptop, seemingly answering an email, and we see him once reading from some papers, apparently working up a speech, but nowhere in any shot, not on a side table or on a shelf in the background, or on the floor of the plane beside his reclining chair, nowhere is a page of reading material. You would think that somewhere over six years of filming, on a plane or a bus or in a hotel room, no matter how austere, there might be some trace of a life of the mind. There isn’t. And in a film devoted to showing us the real Mitt Romney, I find it hard to believe that any scene displaying intellectual depth would have been left out.
I’m on board with most of Bowden’s piece, including the conclusion he comes to based in part on the above excerpt, but I think this particular phenomenon is probably more a matter of audience-pleasing filmmaking. Even if Romney were an unprincipled politicsbot (which in some ways I think he is), I’m sure he’d be an extremely well-prepared, well-read unprincipled politicsbot. It’s just not interesting to watch a guy in chinos read a David Brooks book on a campaign bus, so I think the filmmakers left that kind of footage out of the documentary. With that said, no matter what we see at this point, Romney’s persona seems to be pretty firmly established. Even if there were lots of scenes of Romney devouring political science tomes, economic treatises, and #longreads about the injustices of our criminal justice system, I think we’d still have the sneaking suspicion that he was reading all this stuff just so he could more closely emulate a human being with feelings and intellectual curiosity.
However, to the extent that it’s possible to humanize a guy like Romney, I felt the film did so remarkably, both in ways you could see coming (he may not have strong political convictions on most matters, but he’s obviously connected deeply to his Mormon faith) and in ways I found utterly astonishing (the whole family gathered around the dinner table, delighted by David Sedaris on This American Life). And while I, like Bowden, came out of the viewing without a modicum of regret that Romney lost out on the presidency, I did feel a great deal of sympathy – and even a dollop of admiration – for the candidate.
Bowden has a lot more to say than the brief excerpt above, so click on through if you’re so inclined.