Film Review and Reaction: Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine (2002)
Michael Moore, political satirist, author, and documentary filmmaker released his third documentary in the fall of 2002. The film was entitled Bowling for Columbine . While Moore’s earlier work focused on big business and the relationship between corporate America and the average American, this film focuses, loosely, on the Columbine tragedy. Instead of limiting itself to the scope of reporting the single tragic incident at Columbine, the film explores several aspects of American history and culture in the light of such tragedy.
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The subject matter of the film was so terrible and so terribly important that I found myself shaking in my seat. To say anything at all is difficult, but one thing that struck me as insightful was the psychology of fear Moore presents as an accompaniment to the development of American Culture. For example, the “Africanized killer bees” and the more docile “European Bees” were very potent segments providing much insight into the psychology of fear. The parallels the film drew between our attitudes towards bees and our attitudes towards each other were very revealing and relevant.
One could go on comparing and contrasting each individual theme, point, or sequence in the film, but I have found myself questioning whether this traditional critical treatment of film is appropriate for a film dealing with such tragic subject matter. Bowling for Columbine is a very bold reaction to something that has caused many people great amounts of pain. To comment in light of such gravity seems almost presumptuous of me. When I left the theater after viewing the film for the first time, I overheard a few people discussing how the whole film led up to an anti-climatic, pointless badgering of an aging public figure, Charlton Heston. I saw their point, Moore very well could have done something more important than make an old man appear senile, but even though I could acknowledge their point, I was angry with them. As I thought about it, I wasn’t angry at these particular people as much as the very recognizably American attitude they were voicing. What had any of them done to stop things like Columbine from happening in the first place, or again, even? Where did they get the authority to criticize a work that sought to redress and prevent the slaughter of innocent children? Have we come to be consumers so thoroughly that our desire to be an “arm chair quarterback” justifies our criticizing any and everything that doesn’t suit our fancy? If hearing people react to the film caused me to have such questions about where they were coming from and what authority they had to make such statements, surely I must weigh myself even more carefully on the same scale. Can I allow myself to speak knowing my words do not have the authority of sacrifice and action that the lives of these children deserve? I am not wise enough to answer these questions. I have no plan or cure for pain and no desire to make it seem as if I do. What, then, could I possibly add?
Other Michael Moore Films
I find myself shamed by the film. Shamed for being American and planning for my future as if it is secure, as if my personal future warrants as much attention as the future of children who will never live to graduate. Shamed for simply thinking in terms of security and personal ownership instead of thinking in terms of saving the innocent. Shamed because individual needs occupy my mind when, in light of things like Columbine, 9/11, and the Oklahoma City Bombing, the ideals of the individual almost appear to me as if they are the by-product of childish rhetoric made some time ago in defiance of an oppression I never experienced. I do not know if these thoughts are completely correct, or if they are correct, if that could somehow make them more than meaningless. The gravity of what happens to innocent children in the “greatest country on earth” just strikes me over the head with regret and guilt, again and again.
Lastly, I want to say there was an intangible moment while I was walking out of the theater and overhearing the comments of others. In the silence of my mind at that very moment, I felt how important it can be to say something even though you know that no one will listen, or if they do, that they will only misunderstand or criticize. It takes courage to say anything at all and a lot more courage when what you are saying is something you know needs to be said. This is what I think Michael Moore tried to do with this film. Certainly Michael Moore does not suffer from the burden of perfection, and neither do his films. But, in light of what he is attempting to talk about, and for those who were forced to be silent that he has taken up the cry for, my only response can be the silence of someone who sees the gravity of what needs to be said and cannot find the heart to voice his own unqualified opinion on how it has been said. I do hope, however, that the convictions films like these stir within me lead me to be the kind of man that does know what to say when it comes to be my turn to speak for those who cannot. I also hope that I can find the courage to endure the slings and arrows of a misinformed and self-absorbed country that forever takes the opportunity to drown out the “why” in their bickering about the “how.”
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