Fahrenheit 911: Michael Moore's film runs down so many blind alleys, I left the theatre feeling a bit dazed. It's not that the film fails rhetorically, but the case he builds is jumbled and wobbly like a tower of colorful blocks.
Are we supposed to think Saudia Arabia is axis of evil, protected by their friends and business partners The Bushes? Did Bush-Cheney initiate the Iraqi incursion to benefit their pals at Halliburton? Did we let high-ranking Taliban--and Osama bin Laden--escape Afghanistan on purpose? What the hell is going on? Which is Moore's point exactly.
Like a Talmudic scholar, he barrages the audience with questions, doggedly attacking the popular perceptions surrounding this president--his strength as a leader, his rectitude, and his team. I reckon this is a classic propaganda technique: to probe deeper and deeper unearthing greater puzzles and troubling coincidences to the point that answers no longer matter. The subject, in this case George Bush, ends up smelling like a fish hatchery based on loosely connected questions.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not defending Dubbya; I've never held a president in so much contempt, not even Nixon. But I hate being manipulated in the cinema.
I bought it, too. I left the theatre feeling sick to my stomach, embarrassed by my American identity. Cinematically, the film is arresting. His handling of the 9-11 attacks--a black screen with nothing but the sound of two jets crashing into the towers; his clever portrayal of Bush's Mission Accomplished debacle underscored with the song, "Believe it or not I'm walking on air"; and his wrenching interview with a Flint, Michigan mother who lost a son in this war--use the medium to the fullest. I suspect we haven't yet seen Moore in the full flower of his directoral powers, but he's getting there.
He's also wrangled an incredible amount of information and data in to a two-hour film. Given the number of darts he's lobbed at the administration--the Patriot Act, Homeland Security, the coopting of the presidency in November 2000, the dynastic connections of the Bush family, and so on--he's created a picture that plays well in suburbian cineplexes. In this way, it's quite remarkable.
Ulimately, though, his strongest point comes down to the plight of the common man (if you'll permit me the politically incorrect noun for expediency). This is the question he does answer in Fahrenheit 911 is: Who's fighting the war? Believers and the desperate underclass. Only one member of Congress has a child in Iraq. Recruiters focus their energies on kids in dingy working class malls as opposed to their tony counterparts. Aspirational students from struggling families turn to the military to fund their baccalaureate degrees. Cannon fodder. These poor young kids are cannon fodder and thousands are returning home without their legs or, perhaps more painfully, without their wits.
So the film is flawed. It couldn't happen to a nicer guy, though I wish Moore had connected more of the dots. Nonetheless, Fahrenheit 911 is a powerful testament to a difficult time in our history when money supersedes humanity and jingoism overrides good sense.
Daily kudos: To Michael Wilson who's making a film, Michael Moore Hates America, about media manipulation, the American Dream and trying to land an interview with the great man himself (ala Roger and Me). Probably a bit on the conservative side, but hey, it's stuff like this that really does make America a great nation.