Years from now, when the presidential campaign of Donald Trump is a distant memory, it's more than likely that someone will try to make a movie out of it — a truth-is-loonier-than-fiction satire like "Primary Colors," or maybe a gonzo, 21st-century version of "The Candidate." (I say: Cast Alec Baldwin and expect box office gold.) Yet if you really think about it, a movie version of Trump's candidacy could end up seeming a bit redundant. In so many ways, the Trump campaign already is a movie. It's that riveting, that crazy and funny, that horrifying and suspenseful, that jaw-droppingly "Only in the movies!" surreal.
Trump, of course, isn't the first creature to emerge from the swamp of entertainment culture and make a serious bid for the presidency. That would be Ronald Reagan. But Trump, who acquired as much fame as a reality-TV superstar (on "The Apprentice") as he did for being a real-estate developer, is the first nominee to treat his very candidacy as entertainment. It's not just a campaign, it's a show, it's performance art, it is — yes — a movie. Why, it's even a remake!
PHOTOS: A look back at 'The Candidate
The Candidate in pictures
The Candidate in pictures
Robert Redford stands behind microphones in a scene from the film 'The Candidate', 1972. (Photo by Warner Brothers/Getty Images)
Karen Carlson and Robert Redford smile and look over at camera in a scene from the film 'The Candidate', 1972. (Photo by Warner Brothers/Getty Images)
(GERMANY OUT) Redford, Robert *18.08.1936- Schauspieler, Regisseur, Produzent, USA - als 'Bill McKay' in dem Film 'Bill McKay - Der Kandidat' ('The Candidate'), Regie: Michael Ritchie, USA - 1972 (Photo by RÃ¶hnert/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
Robert Redford stands in crowd in a scene from the film 'The Candidate', 1972. (Photo by Warner Brothers/Getty Images)
Robert Redford smiles for head shot photo in a scene from the film 'The Candidate', 1972. (Photo by Warner Brothers/Getty Images)
Karen Carlson looking to her right in a scene from the film 'The Candidate', 1972. (Photo by Warner Brothers/Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images)
Allen Garfield costars in the film 'The Candidate', 1972. (Photo by Warner Brothers/Getty Images)
Actors Robert Redford and Karen Carlson in a scene from the movie 'The Candidate', 1972. (Photo by Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty Images)
Promotional shot of actors Robert Redford and Karen Carlson as they appear in the movie 'The Candidate', 1972. (Photo by Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty Images)
Karen Carlson sit in car and Robert Redford stands with hands raised in a scene from the film 'The Candidate', 1972. (Photo by Warner Brothers/Getty Images)
Robert Redford stands with hands on hips in a scene from the film 'The Candidate', 1972. (Photo by Warner Brothers/Getty Images)
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For the fascinating truth is that Hollywood predicted the rise of Trump a long time ago. Just go back and watch Elia Kazan's "A Face in the Crowd." It was made in 1957, and it stars Andy Griffith as Lonesome Rhodes, a good ol' boy with a guitar and a pompadour who rises up, through the medium of television, to become a hugely appealing monster of populist malevolence.
It's shocking how deeply — and prophetically — Kazan's film understands the way politics and pop culture were starting to merge. Lonesome Rhodes suggests a fusion of Elvis, Roy Rogers, Reagan, and Mussolini — which means that today, 60 years after the film was made, he looks startlingly like an early version of Trump.
"In many ways, the Trump campaign already is a movie."
The other movie that prophesied Trump was "Network." You'll recall that Howard Beale, the mad prophet of the airwaves, becomes a cult-like preacher who goes on TV and makes himself a lightning rod for people's rage. Night after night, he diagnoses the problem: that the system is rigged, that it's all a bunch of lies, and that we should all be "mad as hell" and say "We're not going to take this anymore." But Howard has no solutions; he's a false prophet because, even as he's diagnosing the problem, he is part of the problem. He pretends to be a rebel, but he's really just another piece of entertainment. Sound familiar?
I don't mean any of this to trivialize what many observers would characterize as Trump's racism, his sexism, or his "jokey" threats of violence. But to point out that his candidacy was foretold by the movies — and that, to an outrageous degree, it plays like one — is, in fact, to take him deadly seriously. It's a way of trying to grapple with the mystery of how we ever wound up with a presidential candidate who is this removed from reality. Political columnists have been tying themselves in knots to make sense of this for the better part of a year, but it's the movies that really have a bead on it. It's the movies — because they are pop culture — that lay bare the insanity of how pop demagoguery works.
The other thing predicted by "A Face in the Crowd" and "Network" is the pickle in which Trump now finds himself. Suddenly, his hate shtick is fizzling; his campaign is in trouble. Is it because he hired the wrong people and made tactical mistakes? Or is it because, with his shameful comments about a Muslim gold-star mother and Second Amendment devotees opposed to Hillary Clinton, he finally went too far? All of the above. But what "A Face in the Crowd" and "Network" crystalize is that "leaders" who are actually building shrines to themselves will always go too far, will always fly too close to the sun. For that is their nature. It's too early to predict the outcome of the 2016 presidential race, but if this movie — the Donald Trump one — remains true to form, then Trump almost has to crash and burn. No audience would demand anything less.
PHOTOS: Trump on the campaign trail
Donald Trump and Mike Pence on the campaign trail since the RNC
Donald Trump and Mike Pence on the campaign trail since the RNC
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump arrives for a rally at Duplin County Events Center in Kenansville, North Carolina on September 20, 2016. / AFP / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
ESTERO, FL - SEPTEMBER 19: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Germain Arena on September 19, 2016 in Estero, Florida. Trump is locked in a tight race against Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in Florida as the November 8th election nears. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the JetCenters of Colorado in Colorado Springs, Colorado on September 17, 2016. / AFP / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 0534 -- Pictured: (l-r) Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump during an interview with host Jimmy Fallon on September 15, 2016 -- (Photo by: Andrew Lipovsky/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at the Bethel United Methedoist Church on September 14, 2016 in Flint, Michigan. / AFP / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 13: U.S. Republican vice presidental nominee Gov. Mike Pence addresses a news conference with House GOP leaders following a conference at Republican headquaters on Capitol Hill September 13, 2016 in Washington, DC. When asked about former vice presidential candidate Speaker Paul Ryan's reluctance to endorse presidential candidate Donald Trump, Pence said that the House Republicans and the campaign agree on a plan for America. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Donald Trump, 2016 Republican presidential nominee, greets attendees after speaking at a campaign event in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016. Any path Trump might take to the presidency inevitably leads through the Rust Belt and industrial Midwest the places the Republican nominee describes as 'rusting and rotting' war zones of manufacturing decline. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 12: (L-R) Chairman and CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald, Howard Lutnick, US Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, and Executive Managing Director, North America for BGC, Daniel LaVecchia attend Annual Charity Day hosted by Cantor Fitzgerald, BGC and GFI at BGC Partners, INC on September 12, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Cantor Fitzgerald)
AKRON, OH - AUGUST 22: Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses supporters at the James A. Rhodes Arena on August 22, 2016 in Akron, Ohio. Trump currently trails Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in Ohio, a state which is critical to his election bid. (Photo by Angelo Merendino/Getty Images)
FREDERICKSBURG, VA - AUGUST 20: GOP nominee Donald Trump holds a rally in Fredricksburg, VA on August 20, 2016 in Fredericksburg, Virginia. (Photo by Leigh Vogel/WireImage)
US Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses supporters at the Summit Sports and Ice Complex on August 19, 2016 in Diamondale, Michigan. / AFP / JEFF KOWALSKY (Photo credit should read JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
Donald Trump, 2016 Republican presidential nominee, pauses while speaking during a campaign rally at the Erie Insurance Arena in Erie, Pennsylvania, U.S., on Friday, Aug. 12, 2016. Two days after Trump said that President Barack Obama had founded Islamic State, and a day after he insisted that he meant what he said, the Republican presidential nominee reversed himself on Friday and claimed the statement was nothing more than sarcasm. Photographer: Ty Wright/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Donald Trump, 2016 Republican presidential nominee, speaks during a campaign rally at the Erie Insurance Arena in Erie, Pennsylvania, U.S., on Friday, Aug. 12, 2016. Two days after Trump said that President Barack Obama had founded Islamic State, and a day after he insisted that he meant what he said, the Republican presidential nominee reversed himself on Friday and claimed the statement was nothing more than sarcasm. Photographer: Ty Wright/Bloomberg via Getty Images
SUNRISE, FL - AUGUST 10: Republican presidential candidate Donald J.Trump addresses the audience during a campaign event at BB&T Center on August 10th, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Johnny Louis/WireImage)
WILMINGTON, NC - AUGUST 9: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with supporters during a campaign event at Trask Coliseum on August 9, 2016 in Wilmington, North Carolina. This was TrumpÃs first visit to Southeastern North Carolina since he entered the presidential race. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
Donald Trump, 2016 Republican presidential nominee, is seen on a monitor speaking during an event to discuss his economic plans at the Detroit Economic Club in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., on Monday, Aug. 8, 2016. Trump is promising the biggest overhaul to the personal income-tax code since Ronald Reagan, as well as a deep cut in the corporate tax rate. He's also pledging to end excessive regulation and lift restrictions on the nation's energy producers. Photographer: Sean Proctor/Bloomberg via Getty Images
PORTLAND, ME - AUGUST 4: Presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Maine Gov. Paul LePage being introduced at a rally in Merrill Auditorium on Thursday, August 4, 2016. (Photo by Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
COLORADO SPRINGS, CO - JULY 29: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump waves to supporters after his speech at the Gallogly Event Center on the campus of the University of Colorado on July 29, 2016 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. (Photo by Joe Mahoney/Getty Images)
SCRANTON, PA - JULY 27: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to a crowd of supporters on July 27, 2016 in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Trump spoke at the Lackawanna College Student Union Gymnasium. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
DORAL, FL - JULY 27: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump holds a press conference at Trump National Doral on July 27, 2016 in Doral, Florida. Trump spoke about the Democratic Convention and called on Russia to find Hillary Clinton's deleted e-mails. (Photo by Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images)
Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, waves to the crowd after addressing the 117th annual VFW National Convention at the Charlotte Convention Center on Tuesday, July 26, 2016. (David T. Foster III/Charlotte Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - JULY 26: Republican vice presidential candidate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence speaks as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump looks on at the 117th National Convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States as veterans strive for a photo at the Charlotte Convention Center on July 26, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. One day after Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton faced the same group, Trump promised a revision to health care for veterans. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)