The monster is, of course, 2 1/2 year Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Not only does the movie recreate her origin story as a force of hate-pandering and resentment reinforcing on the national stage, but it does a terrifying job of treating her as both representative and contributing cause to the nightmarish Republican Primary of 2012, as reactionary as any in national political memory. The fact that Willard Mitt Romney, a supposed moderate and former Governor of the generally Liberal state of Massachusetts, has veered psychotically Right trying to outflank and outpander his highly Conservative opponents, the fact that this very week past he was incapable of summoning the courage to strongly vilify Rush Limbaugh for his misogynistic smearing of citizen Sandra Fluke, proves that whatever prairie fire Sarah Palin ignited in 2008 has yet to burn out.
The progression is like something out of a 1950's sci-fi movie, only instead of an unknown virus reeled in by inquisitive scientists, it's an unknown, unveiled GOP Governor from the most remote state in the Union. Coming from the coldest state as well, it hearkens back to The Thing. She's let in through all decontamination barriers almost by accident to positive fanfare, sparking all sorts of activity including massive investment (here a rush of small-donor campaign contributions), then she begins to falter, unable to adapt to this unfamiliar environment.
But have no fear (or, rather, have dread), because like Frankenstein's monster and most others, it has the ability to learn. Palin studies the television coverage as it goes from ridiculing her to reveling in her speaking power, and she goes through a classic movie-monster chrysalis stage. In the middle of the movie Palin (played to genius perfection by Julianne Moore, ditto Ed Harris as John McCain and, carrying the main story with ease, Woody Harrelson as campaign chief Steve Schmidt) goes silent. She doesn't respond to her handlers, sinks into funks, rattles around on her Blackberry, essentially seems to fall into some sort of catatonic state that ends up feeling more like gestational hibernation.
When she emerges she's unstoppable. She can't be controlled by the campaign, takes on her signature disregard for the truth (and outright lying), whips up crowds with various degrees of hate speech and gets that scary Palin gleam in her eye. The movie doesn't hit it too hard -- it's a smart piece of work -- but it's that gleam that haunts.
In the framing device, Steve Schmidt (Harrelson) is interviewed by Anderson Cooper, and it's clear the scientist no longer has any control over the monster, just a wary, chastened point of view he didn't have at the beginning. To Schmidt's credit, he was just as penitent on The Morning Joe Show this a.m. Unlike the party of Romney, Santorum, Gingrich, Perry, Bachmann, Cain, etc. etc. he's emerged as a man of honor. His party could use more of his type of candor and reality.
On the other hand, Palin is still in the celebrity politics business, the recidivist Tea Party will celebrate it's fourth anniversary this year, and 52% of Mississippi Republicans think President Obama is a Muslim.
There you have the bigger monster: the GOP electoral base.