Bowling for Columbine

| January 7, 2003

Michael Moore’s films not only ask questions about political issues, they tend to answer those questions as well. He is the master of the set up making people with political beliefs different from his own expose themselves and their dubious leanings on screen. He does it with humor and force of will leading people to have either serious love or dislike of him.
Whatever a person’s political leanings, one cannot debate the fact that Bowling for Columbine opens up the dialogue concerning guns and gun violence in America. It is not necessary to agree 100% with Michael Moore to appreciate his ability to open dialogue amongst us, as a country. He is a passionate and persuasive mouthpiece for his liberal political views, making his documentaries necessary viewing for anyone interested in politics. His conclusions sometimes lead his films to blame people or events I don’t feel are responsible. For example, in Bowling for Columbine Moore tracks down Dick Clark and attempts to debate the idea of the Back to Work program in Michigan. It was clear he blamed Dick Clark for this ridiculous program, when in fact he should have been focusing on our politicians here in Michigan.
When watching a Michael Moore film some of the scenes are staged or edited in such a way to make his points have a stronger appeal, or just more theatrical in nature for the audience. This does detract from the facts, all of which are researched and researched again. His statistics and facts are always correct and he stands by them when questioned. He may edit or stage events for the benefit of a more entertaining viewing but this does not detract from the general feeling that this man actually gives a shit about our country and the hard working people who live here.
For me, forgiveness of his tactics is easy because I find his films heartfelt and his dialogue provoking. I do not find his films thought-provoking because, in truth, he doesn’t say anything I don’t already know. What he is good at is getting people talking, both on film and in the audience after the film ends. It is amazing to me, when I watch his films, that people still continue to agree to meet with him after he consistently makes them seem stupid, or even, at times, like liars.
In Bowling for Columbine, he shows Charlton Heston as a confused and paranoid person. Moore gets into Heston’s good graces by showing him his NRA membership card, assuring him he is a life long member, and then questions him on his dubious practices. Heston is accused of being insensitive by appearing at NRA rallies in Columbine very soon after the shootings and again in Flint after a kindergarten child is shot and killed by another young student. Moore does not villain-ize Heston but rather shows him as a person consumed with unreasonable paranoia, which drives him to act in ways a rational person would find inexcusable. I actually felt sorry for Charlton Heston after watching him on screen, as it was clear he was very confused about his actions and living a pathetically scared life.
Michael Moore attempts with this most recent film to understand the reason so many Americans are being killed with guns. During the course of the movie it is painfully obvious Moore does not have a definitive answer and neither does anyone else. This is a decidedly different conclusion from his other films. In Roger and Me it was clear the big car companies was the villain. In the film The Big One, corporations again were the villain using the smaller people in ways that were unacceptable. In Bowling for Columbine, it occurs to me Moore is sincerely asking his audience why we are killing each other in such high numbers. Not only is this a crucial question, it is refreshing to know I am not alone in my confusion as to why. Moore starts the film leaving me with the feeling he views the problem as the number of guns we as Americans have and have access to. He clears this misconception up halfway through the film when he points out that Canadians have as many guns and yet way less murder than we do
Moore, through his usual humorous interviews, determines the root of the problem is the American obsession with fear. He suggests the media and the government perpetuate fear. He goes on to say that this fear may be the main cause of the excessive violence in our country. Whether you agree with Moore politically or even with his vigilante type filmmaking it is impossible to ignore the facts, Americans are living with some serious fear. Gated communities, media obsession with crime (watch any evening news program) and sleeping with loaded guns are all the evidence necessary to believe Moore’s line of reasoning.
The interviews are all fascinating and many show a gentler side of Moore. He picks people who have passionate things to say about violence, without attacking them. Matt Stone (South Park guy) and Marilyn Manson are surprisingly warm and articulate people. Both of them have obviously thought a lot about this problem and are allowed to express themselves here. Matt Stone grew up in Columbine and so he discusses the reasons with a slant towards criticizing the town. Marilyn Manson was a person many people found an easy target after the shootings, and here I feel he made it clear he is no more to blame than anyone else. He was articulate, well spoken and had heartfelt sympathy for the families when he says he would not say anything to the families from Columbine, he would let them speak.
Many of Moore’s critics have said he makes his interviewees appear stupid and uneducated. This was a criticism I heard more than once about Roger and Me, and I did agree to some extent. With Bowling for Columbine Moore seems to really want to get to know his subjects rather than make fun of them or engage in theoretical arguments with them. It as if he has finally grown as a filmmaker and realized the best way to deal with people is to be honest and kind with them. He has always asked this of the people he has interviewed but very rarely showed it himself. In this film he shows the kinder, gentler Michael Moore and it is refreshing and more persuasive.

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