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FAHRENHEIT 9/11 (R) (2004)

Dog Eat Dog Films

Official Site

Director: Michael Moore

Producers: Michael Moore, Jim Czarnecki, Kathleen Glynn

Written by: Michael Moore

Cast: Michael Moore, George W. Bush


First, let us remind ourselves that we are talking about a movie, because Fahrenheit 9/11 has become more than just a movie. Even more than a mere “cultural event,” it has become a sort of specialized weapon in a political civil war that has developed in this highly polarized nation. In this “Civil War,” perhaps the cruelest oxymoron of them all, “liberals” hope that this film will allow them to depose Bush in the upcoming elections. “Conservatives” feel that this film is treasonous in its intent to question the validity of the actions of the acting president. In this regard, the story that Michael Moore tells (http://www.michaelmoore.com) concerning the efforts to block the distribution of his film may be as interesting as the film itself. While the free and open distribution of this film serves as proof that American freedom of speech is still relatively vital and healthy, should anything happen to this “canary in the coal mine,” our political oxygen supply would be highly suspect. But, all this leads us to evaluate this film as a weapon. That misses Moore’s strength.

Arriving in the midst of the political turmoil of an extremely contentious election year, Fahrenheit 9/11 takes it name from Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (and the brilliant corresponding François Truffaut film.) They depict a nightmarish society where all books are burned in order to maintain a uniform fascistic order. So, could Moore be implying that the current political regime is using the tragic events of 9/11 in order to build a new fascist order that suppresses and criminalizes all dissent? Yep. That is exactly what he is saying. Is he right? Should we listen?

Let’s be straight about it. Michael Moore wants to make a point, wants to change your mind, and wants to make the world a better place. To this end, Fahrenheit 9/11 tries to take on the entire Bush presidency in 112 minutes, his specific goal being no less than to be the crucial difference in the next election, shifting public opinion enough to remove Bush from the White House. Moore offers an explanation of the historical events of the Bush presidency in terms of a conspiracy of corporate corruption. His arguments, highlighted by brilliantly edited news footage offered with clever commentary, are passionate and compelling, but remain ultimately inconclusive. Detractors will say that many of these revelations of the film are merely recycled discredited arguments that have been given legitimacy by filmic tricks. Supporters will respond that the arguments have not been discredited and that it is critical to view the “big picture” context of these old issues in the light of these new revelations and exposed alliances. One thing is certain: There will be an enormous and white-hot controversy over factual points advanced in this film, as there will be debate whether these facts support the conclusions that Michael Moore suggests. Ultimately, Moore is just offering some ideas that previously have been limited only to people who read.

But to judge this film purely on logical and factual content is to miss its real value. Moore can use film to speak eloquently. He has made several subjective documentaries that are amongst the most entertaining and certainly the most financially successful documentary films ever made. At his best, he mixes an unapologetically liberal and personal agenda with a wry and sympathetic sense of humor. He makes the results of certain monolithic policies easy to understand by showing how they have very real effects on very real people. He can exploit specific situations for humorous entertainment while allowing his subjects to maintain some measure of dignity, giving them a voice, a chance to be heard, and a significance that might otherwise be ignored. Of course, their words are made to serve the theme of his film and Moore’s overall liberal vision, but this is really no different from so-called objective reporting, and Moore disarmingly admits his biases. Conversely, woe to the poor sap in a Michael Moore film who is left to be the spokesman for monolithic policy. A human being who trumpets an inhumane policy can inevitably be made to look mean, petty, and ridiculous. Those who profit from administering such policy are seen as disconnected and uncaring. They never have a chance. It is all an effective formula with universally entertaining appeal, unless you happen to own stock in the company. I suppose then it would become a pack of lies. Of course, when the company that Moore is attacking is the United States itself and the uncaring monolithic corporate policy comes directly from the president, passions will run high.

In Fahrenheit 9/11, Moore’s brilliance shines in two ways.

First, he has acquired extended and unscripted footage of the president. To Moore, a keen observer and so expertly practiced at the art of framing human gestures in a meaningful way, this footage reveals a beady- and shifty-eyed, conniving man whose chimp-like reactions and similar command of the English language do nothing but completely validate every detail of his notorious role as the pawn of the nefarious forces in the context that Moore has carefully constructed. But to people who look at the same footage and see a man of quiet and simple dignity, these conclusions will seem blasphemous. Certainly we should all judge for ourselves, but should the future of the world rest on whether a president looks a bit like a chimp? Really? Personally, I would recommend that you follow this film by watching the documentary Journeys With George. Then you can make up your own mind whether Moore has revealed the true nature of the president, or if he is just damned good at making people look stupid.

Secondly, and most importantly, Moore gives the effects of the issues of the Bush presidency a very real and personal face. There are enough ironic observations and visual insights in the first half of the film to keep your interest, but it is in the graphic war footage and interviews with soldiers and mothers in second half of the film that represents the powerful documentary filmmaking that sets Moore apart from the rest, and it is worth the wait. This is the footage that makes any Moore film worth watching because it offers human insight that transcends mere words. And here, Moore finds images with powerful implications more frightening and sobering than any of his previous films. Some will say that Michael Moore is exploiting these people, and it may be that he has twisted their stories to his own ends, but these are also the stories that we have missed because they have not been told. This is a war that we, as a nation of people and politicians, have been discussing. It is a singularly valuable experience to be reminded just what that means.

—Steven Harding

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