Capitalism: A Love Story
by Matt Fagerholm
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Michael Moore is the master of opinionated cinema. He doesn’t pretend to be fair and balanced, and he doesn’t claim to have all the answers. He’s more interested in raising questions that sorely need to be addressed and debated. Ever since his first (and still his best) picture Roger & Me stirred up cheers and controversy two decades ago, Moore has always marched to the beat of his own drummer. He refuses to drink the government Kool-Aid so eagerly gulped by the lazy mainstream media. Most of the issues and dilemmas Moore investigates are so complex and so integrated into modern American life that it’s easy for most citizens to simply take them for granted. He is a vital provocateur, and his films deserve to be seen and discussed by people regardless of their political affiliation.
Capitalism: A Love Story is as riveting and alarming as any film Moore has ever made. He traces back through the events that led to our current financial crisis, beginning with Ronald Reagan’s appointment of Don Regan, chairman and CEO of Merrill-Lynch, as his Treasury Secretary, and eventually his Chief of Staff. Moore goes on to illustrate how this morphed the country into a corporation, where politicians cared more for their corporate interests than their fellow citizens. This directly links back to the closing of Flint, Michigan’s GM plant in Roger & Me, which reflected the devastating unemployment that occurred nationwide as companies slashed jobs in order to make short-term profits. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg…
There are countless unforgettable discoveries in this film that support Moore’s belief that capitalism has been hopelessly corrupted. Just wait till you get a load of the corporate practice known as “Dead Peasants” life insurance, where companies wager on employees’ lives, expecting to profit from their deaths. Or the privatization of the Luzerne County Juvenile Center that united local judges and lawyers with the corporate entity PA Child Care, which profits from the detention of juveniles, thus leading to the unfair incarceration of 6,500 youths. Or the inability of anyone on Wall Street to adequately explain what a “derivative” is, other than a complicated betting scheme that has assisted in turning the epicenter of our economy into a frenzied casino. Or the Citigroup memo claiming the US has become a “plutonomy” where the top 1% makes more than the bottom 95% (if anything in the film is guaranteed to boil your blood, this certainly will).
Even though it can be argued that Christianity has become as corrupted as capitalism, Moore makes great satire out of the myth that our societal structure is compatible with the teachings of Jesus (who is hilariously seen uttering, “Go forth and maximize profits,” and “I’m sorry, I can’t help you with your preexisting condition”). Moore wisely keeps his confrontational theatrics to a minimum, since they only really worked when he still had anonymity. For the most part, he lets his footage speak for itself, most memorably toward the end when he unveils rarely seen footage of an ailing FDR declaring his plans for a second Bill of Rights. The film makes clear that Democrats are just guilty as Republicans, particularly since Goldman Sachs (which helped to deregulate the financial industry) was President Obama’s number one private contributor.
While several of Moore’s previous films came out at a time when audiences were not ready to embrace his controversial messages, Capitalism: A Love Story could not have come out at a more perfect time. I love the fact that the film opened wide on the day Chicago lost its Olympic bid. Hosting the games was never in the people’s best interest, and now the city can finally focus on the issues that really matter. The appalling poverty that persists in Chicago’s slums, and the senseless violence that continues to take innocent lives of the people forced to live there, is a product of the capitalistic corruption Moore analyzes in this film. He doesn’t offer a clear alternative, but he does affirm the fact that one must be found. By the end, Moore has thrown the ball into the audience’s court, and it’s entirely their loss if they refuse to pick it up.
Matt Fagerholm Matt Fagerholm is a freelance writer, film enthusiast and critic in Chicago.
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