Film / Bob Roberts

Bob Roberts is a satirical Mockumentary about a fictional American political figure, and the first movie directed by Tim Robbins, who also wrote the screenplay and played the title character. It was released in 1992.

Bob Roberts is a rising star of the Republican Party. On the occasion of the campaign for the forthcoming Senatorial elections (which take place in the context of the Kuwait invasion by Iraq and US response from 1990), a British film crew follow him as he raises support in his home state of Pennsylvania. Roberts is young and charismatic, with a populist touch which he cultivates by playing folk songs at political rallies taking off Bob Dylan songs with the exact opposite messages (even with music videos like Dylan's). His message is one of social and moral conservatism, based on family values, faith in God, an overt rejection of the heritage of the 1960s (he was raised on a commune by hippie parents), and very pro-business policies. Running against an incumbent liberal Democrat (played by Gore Vidal), he projects an image of plainspoken honesty and dynamism.

As the movie goes on, however, people start whispering about Bob's funding coming from sources that are significantly less wholesome than the image he's cultivating. About halfway through, he stages an assassination attempt on his own life, masquerading as a paraplegic from then on. The results of the election -- both political and personal -- come out less rosy than expected going in.

Contains examples of:

  • Broken Aesop: The film is ostensibly a satirical mockumentary attacking right-wing politicians who adopt the rhetoric of rebelliousness in order to look cool, but it portrays those same right-wing politicians as powerful, persuasive and deadly, and those who oppose them as ineffectual, unconvincing and unsympathetic.
  • Captain Ersatz: Coincidence or not, certain aspects of Bob Roberts's character are strikingly similar to real-life Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum.
  • Character Title
  • Downer Ending: Bugs Raplin gets assassinated offscreen, and despite all of his corruption, Roberts wins the senate race.
  • Drugs Are Bad: One of Bob's songs is called "Drugs Stink," which goes so far as to threaten violence against not only drug dealers, but drug users. His extreme anti-drug stance only makes his opponents more eager to uncover his connections to a South American drug cartel.
  • Evil Counterpart: Bob Roberts is basically a corrupt Bizarro-Bob Dylan.
    • His music videos even have Shout Outs to Dylan's work, and one of his most prominent songs is called "Times Are Changin' Back" (citing "The Times They Are a-Changin'".)
  • Grey and Grey Morality: The title character, although an excellent speaker/musician and a shrewd businessman, is ultimately a hypocritical sleazebag with extremist political views. Meanwhile his opponent, while well-intentioned, is blustery, uncharismatic and somewhat na´ve. Neither side look especially good in the end.
  • Harsher In Hind Sight: Invoked and exploited In-Universe: about one of Roberts's sadder songs, a sad fan comments that it's almost as if he knew beforehand that he would be attacked and paralyzed. He and his aides faked the whole assassination attempt.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Define irony: a guy singing a song complaining about people who complain.
  • Intrepid Reporter: John Alijah "Bugs" Raplin, who attempts to dig out the truth about Bob Roberts.
  • No Party Given: Roberts isn't explicitly Republican, though he is called a right-wing conservative. His opponent, Paiste, is explicitly a Democrat—he's noted as "Sen. Brickley Paiste, D-PA" on a news appearance.
  • Obfuscating Disability: Bob claims the assassination attempt has left him paralysed from the waist down, but he is seen tapping his feet at a celebration party, and later he is shown in silhouette walking upright.
  • Ray of Hope Ending: This is supposed to be a documentary In-Universe. The camera spots him stamping his feet while singing behind a podium in the Senate Chambers. That would have a chance of blowing the whole plot open.
  • Repetitive Name: Robert Roberts. Junior.
  • Rule-Abiding Rebel: The title character has guts to spare to call himself a rebel.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Far down the cynical end of the scale.
  • Spin-Off: From Saturday Night Live, believe it or not. Robbins first played Bob Roberts in an SNL sketch from 1986.
  • Straw Fan: Any Roberts supporters that are given even a bit role are all portrayed as gullible, homophobic, and violent (to the point that a group of them led by a kid played by Jack Blacknote  attack protesters at one of his concerts).
  • Strawman Political: Ya think? Bob is a scathing caricature of right-wing, evangelical, capitalist conservatives, simultaneously a wide-eyed fanatic and a scheming cynic.
    • His opponent, Senator Paiste, gets off lighter but is still a portrait of the establishment Democrat: a wishy-washy, uncharismatic career politician who breathes moral platitudes with no real conviction behind them, who acknowledges that something is wrong without lifting a finger to change things. His actor, Gore Vidal, was a far-left radical who harshly criticized the Democratic Party.