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Bowling for Answers
Michael Moore is on another mission
by Ryan Wiederkehr on Aug 20, 2004
Freedom. Wealth. Idealism. These are words one could use to sum up the national psyche of America. In his latest film, Bowling for Columbine, documentary filmmaker Michael Moore (Roger and Me) introduces another one: fear. Fear of our neighbors, fear of strangers, fear of the unknown. Fear, he contests, is what's responsible for the violence inherent in modern America.
Okay, some background on the film. Moore originally intended to produce a documentary about guns in America, but as the idea was brewing, two students shot and killed twelve other students and one teacher at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Upon learning the news, Moore decided to center his film around those events instead.
It's interesting to watch how his original idea broadened as Moore investigated the Columbine shootings. As it turns out, the Columbine massacre becomes the meta-drama of the film, an event that sums up a larger, scarier picture. A few months after Columbine, a six year-old boy shot a female classmate with his uncle's gun. Violence is an epidemic in this country, asserts Moore, and he's setting out to try to find the roots of it.
This takes us back to fear in America. Moore clearly believes that fear is the answer to the question he's asking through the film: Why do Americans shoot each other at a rate exponentially higher than any other nation? There's a hilarious, distinctly South Park style animated history sequence in which he tries to run down a history of American fear.
This is not a film with concrete answers. It can't be; the issue itself is far too complex. Moore often introduces some relatively half-baked correlations throughout the film, and some of his side tangents don't really open any new doors. It's not a film with a beginning, middle, and an end - but somehow that doesn't detract from the experience. In fact, it serves a good purpose, illustrating the fact that the issue of guns and violence in America is like a big tangle of fishing line. Every time you think you have the thing figured out, an even bigger knot shows up in its place. For example, Moore obviously tries to point the finger at the Second Amendment, but when he looks to our neighbors to the North, that argument loses some steam. Numbers indicate that nearly every Canadian family owns a gun, yet the number of Canadians killed by a firearm there is only a small fraction of our nation's figure.
As in the rest of Moore's films, his interviews are the strength of the product. Whether or not you agree with his sometimes badgering and holier-than-thou interview style, one thing that's evident is that the guy has balls. He asks tough questions. Just ask Charleton Heston, who was unlucky enough to be found by Moore on a Hollywood star map. The National Rifle Association chief comes across as senile as Ronald Reagan, which certainly undermines the legitimacy of his fire and brimstone NRA speeches. When Heston puts a stop to the interview, the camera watches as he staggers away from Moore like a punch drunk fighter.
Marilyn Manson is perhaps the most eloquent and insightful interview in the film. Manson's music was fingered as the culprit of the Columbine shootings by many moralist critics; the two shooters were Marilyn Manson fans. Moore points out the absurdity of this claim by revealing the fact that the shooters were also big bowling fans. In fact, they went bowling just before school on the day that they shot those thirteen people. Hence the title of the documentary. Why not blame bowling for the violence? It makes about as much sense as blaming music.
Bowling for Columbine is a film that wants to familiarize its audience with the myriad of violence-related problems in today's American society. It doesn't necessarily hold any concrete answers, but the fact of the matter is that it will spark heated debates among people of all political backgrounds. It is in this debate, and by getting people to sit and think about these things, that Moore hopes to find an answer, a reason, a culprit, for the blood that flows senselessly through our streets.
Bowling for Columbine
2 hours 1 minute
A documentary by filmmaker Michael Moore
by Ryan Wiederkehr on Aug 20, 2004