Bowling For Columbine
Directed by Michael Moore
Michael Moore, master of the drive-by interview, tackles the matter of guns and violence in America. And, like a shooter with a semi automatic and no upper body strength, he sprays ideas and concepts across the screen, killing some and wounding many. The general argument here is that too many people kill each other with guns in America, but the root cause or solution is left a mystery for the viewer. Moore offers tons of ideas, and then knocks each straw man down in turn. Too many guns? Canada has more. A violent history? Not as violent as Germany or England. Marylin Manson lyrics? He’s the most lucid person in the movie, offering to listen to victims instead of lecture them. Hey, maybe it’s Dick Clark’s fault! He got a tax credit for hiring a woman whose six-year-old shot a little girl. Well, that’s a stretch in my mind, but you’ll enjoy watching Clark slam his limo door in Moore’s face and rolls off. There is some positive action as well, with Moore getting K-Mart to stop selling guns and ammo, just as it slides into bankruptcy. Even Charlton Heston, Maximum Leader of the NRA, submits to an interview and catches himself just a minute too late as he tries to improv an answer to a tricky question. It seems no one, not even Moore, has an answer to the question of violent death in America.
There’s a lot more ground to cover — exercises with paramilitary groups in Michigan, talking to James Nichols, interviewing Columbine parents and survivors, debating poverty and welfare reform and Canadian social policies, killer bees and the war in Bosnia. We even visit an amazing little bank in North Dakota that gives guns as premiums for opening Certificates of Deposit. Mr. Moore sagely asks: “Is it a good idea to give out guns in a bank?” There is no real response, but they do perform a background check on him just to make sure. He’s clean. Then it’s off to some disaffected youth in Michigan, one who sells stolen guns and drugs, and another that was disappointed not to be named “Guy Most Likely to Detonate a Pipe Bomb in Gym Class.” We probably don’t really want these guys owning weapons, but they are who so many Americans turn to get them in a pinch.
The high point of this random access film is an animated history of America, narrated by Mr. Bullet. There’s no credit given to the South Park creators, but it sure looks like their work as the whites get off the boat in Plymouth and start killing their way into the 21st century. Trey Parker speaks with some authority on high school, being a Columbine alum himself and detailing why high schools sucked then and now. Perhaps the best-aimed shot of the film wings the local news media in America, a group who lived by the philosophy of “If it bleeds, it leads.” Crime is down, but crime coverage is up. Maybe we only THINK we have a problem. After all, that’s how Hearst started the Spanish American War.
Bowling raises a ton of good points, but fails miserably to connect them into any sort of coherent narration. Moore points the finger of social failure in all directions, and the result is a great collection of genuinely funny and touching moments assembled into a difficult to digest film. It’s a Porky Pig diatribe on an important topic — angry and fulminous and nearly impossible to follow. Moore interviews gun fanatics, and one is glad he’s not in their camp. His sense of diffuse anger is identical to that of any of his subjects, just pointed in other directions. What Moore does best is corner people and ask them embarrassing questions until they either slam the door in his face or come across as complete idiots. It fun to see the result, but it’s never enough to become a call to arm or disarm. The take away line is we are all a bunch of sick puppies, afraid of own shadow and ready to shoot it dead. Looks like it’s another thing for us all to worry about.