Living in Fear
Film review by: Witney Seibold
The central question posed by Michael Moore in his brilliant new documentary “Bowling for Columbine” is this: what are we so afraid of? Americans are free. We’re an independent, democratic, and wealthy nation. But why then, are we so violent (Americans kill over 11,000 other Americans a year with their handguns, it is pointed out in the film, while countries like Japan and Australia kill in the 30s)? What are we constantly attacking? What are we so afraid of? Michael Moore doesn’t give the answer, but there really isn’t one. Besides, it’s not a documentarian’s job to answer questions. A good documentarian will reveal the injustice and comment on it, and hope that the viewers will take action about it.
In “Bowling For Columbine,” his target is not a specific company like GM, or the nastiness of certain politicians, but the abstract concept of violence in America. Most specifically (but not exclusively), gun violence. It all started back in April 1999 after the shootings at Columbine high school in Littleton, CO. It was clear at that moment that gun ownership was a bad idea. Why then, did Charlton Heston and the NRA decide to hold a gun rally in Littleton a mere few days later? Moore extends logically, clearly, and brilliantly, from the Columbine shootings and the NRA’s (still unacknowledged) faux pas, into an abstract violence that exists throughout the nation. He interviews the executive producer of Cops. He talks to one-time Littleton resident Matt Stone, co-creator of “South Park.” He visits the Michigan Militia. Marilyn Manson was blamed for violent behavior, so Moore puts him on camera. And, in the film’s finale, he finally questions the NRA president, Charlton Heston in a painful and bitter exchange.
It is a sad comment on the nation, this film. But only Moore can present such a tragic and controversial subject with bite and humor. We do get the stories of kids who have been crippled by the Columbine shooting. But we also get the rather comic situations of, say the dog that accidentally shot someone. Or the kid who was upset that he was only #2 on his high school’s bomb-threat list (“It’s kind of an ego thing.”). He asks the right questions, and we are requested to answer.
Moore is something of an American hero. Ever since he saw his hometown of Flint, Michigan fall apart at the hands of corporate greed, and his subsequent documentary on the subject, “Roger & Me” (1989), he has tackled everyday American injustice with wit, pranks, and an invading camera eye. He is an unforgiving liberal. You may not agree with his politics, but it’s important that you see his film. Answer his questions.