Motion Picture Character of the Week

Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood

F.U. – Fuck you! A pair of initials that carry a certain weight. One thing is certain, in House of Cards’ third season, Frank Underwood will continue to stick to his guns. He stands at the grave of his own father, as president of the USA, and he takes out his FNOTUS (First Noodle of the US) and takes a piss. So. He hasn’t changed at all.

Two seasons ago we watched in admiration as Kevin Spacey brought the mercurial Washington gamesman Frank Underwood to life. It began, charting his path from majority whip in the house to the vice-presidency and ultimately the holy grail of US-politics: “Mr President”. Positioned at the top of the pyramid, we might start to wonder, what will happen now that he’s triumphed? What do director David Fincher, Kevin Spacey and the rest of the crew have in mind?

Not that much. Maybe we should have guessed, but it seemed so unlikely that such a brutal power politician would stumble. No spoilers though we don’t think it’ll affect your enjoyment, which is largely down to an impressive Spacey, who keeps the fuck-it-all mentality of American Beauty’s Lester Burnham, while adding every conceivable madness, unscrupulousness, potency and power to his performance.

Unlike Aaron Sorkin, the wannabe-naturalist of American political drama, whose „The West Wing“ took on the presidency fifteen years ago, House of Cards takes a closer look on Washington’s darker side. „The West Wing“ portrayed an entirely different kind of president. Sorkin’s was an aspiration/inspirational figure, a kind of a fighter for justice – it made sense in its era, as a liberal corrective for the awfulness of George Dubya Bush.

Beau Willimon, the chief-writer of „House of Cards“, created – together with Fincher and Spacey – a wholly other type of president. Frank Underwood is an ur-modern politician – a man perfect for the era of mass political apathy. None of his actions or decisions are based on policy, there is but one goal: power! Power and the maintenance thereof. Almost every character in House of Cards shares this approach and somewhat ironically it falls to a few journalists to display noble motives (although even they are always keeping one eye on the own career).

Should we think of Frank Underwood as some kind of paradigm, as an exaggerated „president of the now“? But that’s to embrace or elevate empty pragmatism. Underwood is a bad dream, a nightmare. An effigy of fear (and desire) for those, who believe, that Washington (London, Berlin, Brussels, etc.) can only be soaked with intrigues and lies. The tableau is populated by a bunch of women and men, that – in the best case – are just getting rich on the backs of hardworking people. And in the heated conspiracy-minded internet audience, they’re even more proof that today’s politics is nothing more than corruption and dark attempts at world mastery. (Thanks to the Tea-Party and the German „Pegida“-movement for that.)

Back in 2003 at the EU summit for the eastward enlargement the former premier of Denmark, and current NATO-Secretary-General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen agreed to take part in a documentary. For this he wore a small microphone – even while sitting in highly-classified meetings. What emerged from this ‘bug’ – which ended up in the documentary „Fogh bac facaden“ – drew a grisly picture of the EU, a stage full of self-absorbed politicians. If you watch and listen closely enough, you see just politicians ‘at work’, negotiating, discussing, hard but fair. But their eyes are always on their own paymasters. So that’s the real politics. Arguments about money, seats and influence.

But Frank Underwood doesn’t know anything like this. His is a whole other game. And it’s one that aims towards the very disintegration of politics itself.


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