Director: Michael Moore
MPAA Rating: (for some violent images and language)
Running Time: 1:59
Release Date: 10/11/02
Review by Mark Dujsik
Moore explores nearly every facet of the
issue—and even some things you wouldn’t think of right away (stories about
“Africanized killer bees” take on a whole new subtext)—through interviews,
archive footage, startling statistics, and his usual “guerilla filmmaking”
techniques, in which he makes impromptu visits to unsuspecting corporations or
individuals and asks them the last questions they want to hear or are prepared
to answer. In his first film Roger
& Me, Moore
was working with what he had and didn’t end up with any answers because no
one would talk to him. Bowling for Columbine offers no answers either, but it’s due
mostly in part to the subject matter. There
are limitless possibilities presented throughout the film, and many incorrect
assumptions are addressed. It must
be the violence in music and movies, people say. But all those violent lyrics and images are heard and seen in other
countries, and still the gun-related murder rate remains low outside the States.
People like shock rocker Marilyn Manson are easy targets for censure, but
Manson himself cancelled tour dates immediately after the Columbine massacre. When interviewed, Manson also happens to give one of the most intelligent
answers in the film.
Then there’s the flip side of the coin. Moore somehow manages to get an interview with actor and National Rifle Association President Charlton Heston, who either doesn’t know who Moore is or was only prepared for an attack. Heston invites Moore into his home, answers a few obligatory questions (yes, he does have loaded guns in his house for defense, although he admits, he has never been a victim of crime), says something about “ethnic mixing” being part of the violence problem, and finally stands up and leaves when asked why the NRA came to Moore’s hometown of Flint, Michigan right after a six-year-old boy shot and killed a six-year-old girl. At some point, you begin to wonder—as we all have wondered at one point or another when confronting situations like this—where are the parents? In the Flint case, the boy was staying with his uncle while his mother was being bussed to a rich neighborhood to work two jobs at a local mall—part of Michigan Welfare to Work program. One of the jobs was at a theme restaurant owned by Dick Clark. When Moore tries to ask Clark about the program, he ignores Moore and drives off.
What we see is the difference of reactions to such issues. Some people, like Heston, will only talk, and others, like Clark, will simply ignore it altogether. Then there are people like Moore , who are looking for discussion. That involves both talking and, as Manson points out, listening. Moore is one of our best and most important political satirists. What’s unique here, as compared to Roger & Me and his other documentary The Big One, is that Moore seems to understand from the start that he will get no answers. His past movies were propelled by anger and an attempt to find justice, but the tone of this film is confusion interlaced with a deep melancholy and, as is unfortunately the case so often in times of tragedy, a recognition of sad irony. Moore follows a statement in which James Nichols (brother of Terry Nichols, one of the convicted perpetrators of the Oklahoma City bombing) says that America is not the kind of country to seek revenge* with a montage of US involvement throughout the world, including the forgotten fact that the CIA trained Osama bin Laden to fight the Soviets, and ending with an image of the 9/11 attacks.Bowling for Columbine is emotionally wrenching, politically incisive, and subversively funny. It is also an important film, not only because of what it’s about but also because of what it represents. Films like this strengthen our opinions and give us a feeling of democracy and freedom of speech at work. Moore ’s politics aren’t for everyone, but that isn’t the issue here. The issue and what’s important is that he’s asking what’s on everyone’s mind and discovering that we’re all just as dumbfounded as the next person.
*Upon revisiting the film and this review, I notice I was mistaken. The statement about the US and revenge was actually spoken by a representative from Lockheed Martin.
Copyright © 2002 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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