Michael Moore Strikes Again
Never underestimate the power of guns in our American culture -- nor, for that matter, our obsession with violence. In Bowling for Columbine, Michael Moore uses his inimitable muckraking style to explore those disturbing elements of the American psyche. The result? A bitingly satiric documentary, but one filled with more questions than answers.
Although covering deadly serious issues, Moore treats them with the same outlandish humor he displayed in Roger and Me. He visits a bank where guns are given out to people who open new accounts. He badgers Dick Clark and Charlton Heston for interviews. He leads a protest against K-Mart for selling ammunition of the kind used in the Columbine massacre. And, right in the middle of his film, he adds a lengthy "South Park"-like cartoon illustrating the history of America’s "culture of fear." Moore’s sometimes hilarious, often frightening conversations with people like cartoonist Matt Stone, shock-rocker Marilyn Manson, and the brother of the Oklahoma City bomber serve to highlight his provocative theme.
Although a passion for guns by so many U.S. citizens plays a key role in Bowling for Columbine, NRA member Moore points out that Canadians also enjoy their firearms – yet shooting-related homicides are much lower in Canada. (Drat! I'll have to stop blaming everything on the NRA now.) Turning his attention to the media, Moore reveals another startling fact. Coverage of violent acts by the U.S. media has been escalating despite the decrease of violence in our country. News programs cater to what their viewers want to see. As Pogo might observe, "We have met the enemy and it is us."
After talking personally with Moore in Telluride, I’m convinced he’s sincere about wanting to help solve the problems covered in his documentaries. "Thank you for all your fine work," I said when we met. "It’s your work, too; it’s everybody’s work," he replied.
While I admire Moore’s intentions, I’m disappointed about his lack of focus in Bowling for Columbine. The film jumps from topic to topic like a talk show host on speed. And I felt very uncomfortable during Moore’s closing interview with NRA President Heston, probably because of the recent announcement about that veteran actor’s failing health due to Alzheimer’s Disease. Video-camera footage of the actual Columbine shootings also troubled me. Moore admits, "It’s still painful for me to watch it."
Why did Columbine High School students Eric Harris and Dylan Kiebold decide to shoot 12 of their classmates and a teacher, then kill themselves? Moore talks with numerous people in Littleton, Colorado, to find the answer. Violent computer games, gory videos, satanic music, a bowling class attended by Eric and Dylan on the morning of the shootings, and the U.S. missile program are all scrutinized – with no satisfactory closure.
With Bowling for Columbine, Moore gives us the perfect starting point for a national conversation about guns, violence, and fear. If I were still teaching my "American Problems" high school social studies class, I would assign this thought-provoking documentary as a must-see for all my students.
(Released by United Artists and rated "R" for some violent images and language.)