(NOTE: Generally, as a rule, I try to make a pointed effort not to insert myself directly into the reviews that I write here on the site. I’m fortunate enough to publish a column, Cynamatic, that provides my daily dose of narcissistic grandstanding, and having addressed the issue of Fahrenheit 9/11 several issues back – and to a truly humbling response – I feel that it’s only appropriate, for the purposes of this very personal film, to personalize its review. I have tried, in the past, and not always with success, to temper my own personal preferences in an effort to be as cinematically fair as possible. That will be impossible here. Fahrenheit 9/11 is an unrepentantly passionate film and talks, to some degree, about the two bastard children of American culture: religion and politics. So, for right or wrong, my personal baggage will weigh heavily here. Please take that into account while reading the following. Regardless, I hope that you find some value in the content below.)
Let me begin professionally and move downhill from there.
Michael Moore’s latest documentary – though perhaps, with this film, the term documentary does not so fittingly apply – has received, over the course of the past month, a near-comical amount of press as it has steamrolled relentlessly toward release. The turbulent history of the film’s production and distribution difficulties, for the moment, seems best discussed elsewhere. Lord knows there’s been enough written on the subject to fill a book, and I would imagine, as I write this, that somewhere, some publishing company is cutting a check to have it written.
Better, I suppose, to focus on the film itself.
Fahrenheit 9/11 is a perfect example of how structure and content needn’t be mutually exclusive, and is, in many ways, a perfect summation of its ever-vocal creator.
As a documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11 is a meandering, unfocused and largely unbalanced piece of non-fiction filmmaking, a judgment that has little or nothing to do with its inherent bias. However, as one patriot’s passionate, wide-ranging soliloquy to America, the film is a brutally effective prayer for uncensored truth and change.
Viewed strictly as a cinematic document, the film simply doesn’t hold. It s structure is broken down roughly into one-third Bush-bashing and two-thirds compassionate, wartime introspection, with little or no connection drawn between segments.
As a film whose purpose is to spill the dirty secrets of George W. Bush, it spreads a great many factual breadcrumbs along a path that simply leads to no solid thesis, other than the assertion that our current president is of dubious moral character. It maps out a history of financial and political nepotism rampant in the Bush family. It firmly highlights the large extent to which the Saudi government has involved itself in the US political economy, both pre- and post-9/11, and further posits that they’ve been heavily favored for their investment. It documents Bush’s personal history, from big-oil business into politics, and points out, with certainly enough sources to argue credibility, the questionable nature with which the administration has established its foreign-oil policies. It tracks the harried development and midnight delivery of the Patriot Act, passed the following day with none of the Senate having actually read the bill.
Frankly, it says a lot – which for the uninformed will be largely informative – but passes up the opportunity to cleverly expand upon that single premise. So rather than a focused, two hour documentary on the Bush family, the film wanders over to address the war in Iraq, where it finally finds its feet.
Michael Moore, love him or hate him, has always been a man in defense of the ordinary, in the corner of every mother and father, brother and sister, husband and wife who were never so lucky to stumble upon millions and who work hard – day in, day out – to support themselves and their families, who fall upon the sword of high taxes, low wages, unchecked corporate growth, scare medical coverage and a disappearing social security. In defense of the disenfranchised, the disillusioned, an Everyman who has found the good fortune for his voice to be heard over a large, national microphone.
And, as such, that voice is flawed, opinionated, biased, and sometimes just a little to the left of logic, but is, for all its humanity, truthful and honest and passionate and driven and pleading for some degree of equality and fair play, unaccepting of the argument that life and politics are both unfair, and that classism and racism are somehow inherent, somehow natural to the order of life that we lead.
I don’t know the man, and certainly don’t feign to glorify him beyond reason, but after seeing Roger & Me and The Big One and Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11 and every episode of TV Nation, it can’t be argued that Moore’s motivation isn’t the welfare of his fellow Americans. And for every critic that has risen to call him unpatriotic, the question exists – if patriotism is love for one’s country, where must that love be directed? To its government or its governed? And if one’s love is for the people of a nation, and for some idea of what makes that nation great, but falls short of a government that one believes could be better, is that unpatriotic? Is it our duty, as American citizens, to question the government that we have elected to serve us, or to lower our heads in acceptance, speechless? Is it our duty, through protest or media or art, to remind the government that it follows its constituents, and not the other way around? To keep it honest? Or, at the very least, try to?
Agree or disagree. But having seen the second hour of Fahrenheit 9/11, these are the thoughts that I am left with, filled with a deep sense of patriotism at the sound of an entire theatre standing in applause—not for some Hollywood summer blockbuster, but for a little documentary that dares to show what it shows.
Seeing our soldiers overseas, captured in the opening moments of the war – enthusiastic and engaged – wither to the tired, bitter, frightened young men and women that they are only eight months later…Hearing their sorrowful, sometimes hateful words…Watching them humiliate foreign soldiers…Seeing images of their dead bodies mangled…That’s a powerful thing.
Watching an Iraqi mother rail in Arabic at the god to whom she’d so long devoted her life…Shaking her fist at the sky and demanding an answer that never arrives…Realizing, as any person must, that the price of war is not merely our own…That its wage is too often paid in innocent blood…
Watching a patriotic, flag-waving mother in the months before her son’s death in Iraq is movingly nationalistic. But watching that mother crumble in the months after, her faith wavering, her beliefs reversed…That’s patriotic…
Not because of a solider lost, or the faith in one’s government that soldier represented…But because it serves as a great reminder of the sacrifice these men and women make, every day…A sacrifice not measured exclusively in life…But rather…In the pain left behind at a great life lost…In the innocence abandoned with each enemy killed…In dignity, in optimism…And sometimes in the belief that our government cares more for us than it does for itself, leads us as it should, for no gain other than that of the country that our soldiers sacrifice, in so many ways, their souls to serve…
That’s patriotism. And Moore absolutely recognizes that.
And in the final moments of the film, when some thesis is finally discovered…It’s not about Bush, or oil, or the media, or big business…It’s about those thousands of soldiers to whom we owe our lives…And to whom our leaders owe their honesty…To whom our leaders must swear an oath that they will never send them to war for any reason other than the safety of this country or the protection of those who can’t protect themselves. Not to gain votes, or save face, or make money, or push an agenda. But to defend a way of life that is entirely about freedom.
How that can possibly be un-patriotic, I’ll never know.
And so – the review in brief.
Mediocre documentary. Wonderful film.
See it. Love it. Hate it.
Just so long as you talk about it.