Bowling For Columbine (2002)
The film takes on violence in America, posing troublesome questions about why our country has the highest crime rate of any country in the world. Is it because of guns? Media-fed paranoia? Our history of violence? Race? A complicated relationship between all of these things?
Moore presents lots of persuasive facts and footage to address the various angles, and somehow misses the simple point that while our nation is the most properous in the world, the culture of financial and emotional havingness here is deeply divided. The disenfranchised are not afforded this havingness, while the upper crust is entitled to it.
To me, it's an issue of class. Moore, like many outraged white liberals, equates class with race, and beats his drum loudly and proudly, supposedly on behalf of the societally marginalized but it's clearer than ever that he's using these folks as props for an entirely separate crusade: against himself.
His manipulativeness reaches sick extremes here, as he trundles a couple of Columbine kids down to K-Mart headquarters to attempt to get them to stop selling ammunition. It works, but that's the company's good judgment the fact remains that his use of the shooting victims (one wheelchair-bound) in much the same way he utilized a comically giant prize check in The Big One.
Then there's the scene where he tries to get Charleton Heston to personally apologize to the family of a 6-year-old girl killed by her gun-wielding first-grade classmate (Heston had made appearances at gun rallies locally a week after both the Columbine shooting and this one in Moore's hometown of Flint). Heston, surprisingly, cuts a far more sympathetic figure than Moore he's commanding, direct, and with it despite suffering from Alzheimer's, and Moore literally chases him down trying to foist in his face a picture of the slain girl.
For a moment, you might believe that Heston ought to apologize for any disrespect. But then you think: wait, is this really about the girl? Does her mother need Heston's apology? What is Michael Moore getting at?
Here's my take: he's getting at nothing, but getting off on his eternal "martyr to the cause" pose, always being shut down by people and institutions who refuse to be accountable for their actions. This point is made even more indulgently clear in a DVD bonus feature wherein Moore pats himself on the back for his Academy Awards speech decrying George W.'s war on Iraq, as though he accomplished something with that.
Now, I'm hardly a Bush supporter, but come on: preaching anti-Bush sentiment to a roomful of Hollywood liberals? That's a tremendously easy standing ovation, nothing hard-earned about it. Same goes for the rapturous reception he receives on another DVD featurette, where he appears before a Denver audience following a Columbine screening. Yeah, man, an auditorium of college "activists" real tough crowd.
While the film presents some deep ideas, it more often glosses over the issues in pursuit of easy jabs, forced ironies, and situations designed to make Moore appear like he's on the front lines of some crucial battle. He isn't. All he's fighting for is acclaim, adoration, and bigger paychecks for food to continue burying his deep self-loathing within his bloated body.
I'd love to make a film called Michael & Me, wherein I would chase him around with a therapist in tow, insisting that he get in touch with the demons that drive him to try to get everyone to apologize for everything that makes him angry. You can bet he'd dodge me like Roger Smith, Dick Clark, or any of the other unwitting folks who wisely choose not to engage him. He's crazy.
What frustrates me the most is that I don't disagree with him, almost at all. His politics are easy to side with. But his methods of creating "awareness" consist mainly of making fun of people, frequently the very people he's trying to give voice. And his sad-violin nostalgia for the great lost paradise of Flint, Michigan rears up again here and all I can come up with is: Dude, let it go.
If he cares so fucking much, I want to see him build some playgrounds in Flint, or anything that demonstrates some authentic compassion. A scene where he tries to console a woman he's provoked to tears illustrates a telling lack of ability to really connect his cold pats on the back are empty, unassured, and yes, fearful.
Bowling For Columbine has a lot to say, yeah too bad most of it is about the director's own self-hatred. If you can see through the gauze of that miserable shit, you may come away with some issues to think about but any answers you arrive at will be your own. Michael Moore is too busy feasting on fear to provide the insight he promises.
Review by Denver Fritz