2004Director: Michael Moore
Cast: George W. Bush
heres no militia here. This was my uncle’s house. May God destroy their houses."
These words come about halfway through Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 from an Iraqi woman standing next to the ruins of her uncle’s house; his only crime was living in Baghdad during the American invasion. Out of context her words appear malevolent and vengeful, but after seeing the carnage that the Iraqi people were subjected to after March 2003 one can only sympathize.
Part of what makes Fahrenheit 9/11 a more successful film than Moore's Bowling for Columbine is the way it portrays the plight of the Iraqi people. In this instance, it’s a far more honest film. With Moore playing a significantly less prominent role, he allows the audiences to simply ponder the images. We see one man holding the mutilated corpse of a child out to the camera, asking us what this child’s crime was.
Moore unflinchingly subjects us to image after image of dead or wounded civilians. Never cutting these ghastly images short or distracting us with narration, we are forced to see the consequences of our actions; the side of the war that no one really wants to see. Everything else in the film may be a retread of things we’ve heard before, but it’s these images that stand apart from the muddled politics. Images like these are the heart of Moore’s film.
"So what's this nonsense I hear about a tax on beer and pork rinds?"
Unfortunately, the rest of the film is something of a lumbering beast. Much like Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11 is an ambitious documentary that attempts more than it can ever hope to achieve. The main agenda for Moore is to show how George W. Bush used the tragedy of Sept. 11 to launch a war in Iraq and to secure his position in the presidency after a sketchy election. In addition, Moore focuses on Bush’s ties with wealthy Saudi Arabian families, using these connections to point out where Bush’s investments were at the time and how the war he inevitably waged meant profit for both parties.
Moore draws connections between everything in the film (including the situation in-- you guessed it-- Flint, Michigan), but his information is so overwhelming that I’d imagine it would be difficult for those without extensive knowledge of foreign policy (myself included) to discern between fact and fiction. Moreover, it’s difficult to review this film on its own terms. Is it entertaining? Yes. Is it well made? Somewhat. Is it true? Well, that’s where it becomes difficult.
The reason the images of Iraq form the backbone to Moore’s film is because every other piece of information presented will no doubt be seen as suspect. Those that agree with Moore will rally behind his theories; those that disagree will present Moore’s take as a series of half-truths or outright lies; and those that are just there to see something controversial won’t give a damn anyway. And why should they? They’ve got the Real World waiting for them at home (Lord knows I did).
But while all these groups bicker amongst each other about who to blame and whether Moore skews the truth or not, these victims of war continue to die. Whether intentionally or not, Moore has carved out a separate entity in his film that operates independently from his own sensationalist rhetoric. These victimized people become a documentary of their own that stands as an even greater testament to the injustice of war than any of Moore’s conspiracy theories.
That’s why these images are the only absolute truth in the film, even if they operate within a structure that’s largely constructed and rewritten to suit one man’s agenda. They depict a human suffering that isn’t as malleable as the "facts" in the film. For all the people who flocked to see the stylized (and gratuitous) suffering of Christ earlier this year, here now we see a more honest depiction of torture, despite their attachment to Moore’s political agenda.
"This stuff about the military being no place for a black man is bull. Why, just last week my barracks had a 24-hour Wayne Brady Show marathon!"
Do I disagree with Moore for making such a sensationalist film? No. In fact, I’m glad a film like this exists, if for no other reason than to raise these issues to an audience that might otherwise remain unaware of such things. It’s not that Moore condescendingly educates an ignorant America, as much as he opens up the debate to a larger audience.
Case in point: in searching for a proper way to approach this film I stumbled across a number of insightful and eye-opening debates that have already introduced me to many previously unheard of perspectives. These people may complain that Moore’s film presents only one side of the issue, but, the truth is, the information is there for those who seek it out. Fahrenheit 9/11 should serve simply as a starting point for understanding our political situation, and, even then, it’s impossible to devise the kind of black and white scenario that Moore wants us to believe.
Still, with all its reductionist theory and gaps in information, Fahrenheit 9/11 remains a genuinely entertaining film. It may be questionable as gospel truth, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from enjoying the way Moore combines stark political debate with the absurdity of the American media.