While criticizing U.S. president George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, filmmaker Michael Moore was loudly booed by some at the 2003 Academy Awards ceremony. Not long afterwards, Moore decided he was gonna show ‘em who was right. And show ‘em he does with his Palme d’Or-winning documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, which relies on interviews, news articles, and footage edited out of newscasts to create a relentless indictment of the Bush government, its corporate backers, and the (corporate-owned and -controlled) American media.
Fahrenheit 9/11 begins with a dissection of the 2000 U.S. presidential election, in which Al Gore won the popular vote via the ballot box, but George W. Bush won the White House via his brother’s Florida and his father’s Supreme Court pals.
From there, Moore uses the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington to depict the long-standing close ties between the Bush dynasty and Saudi Arabia’s Royal House of Saud and to illustrate W.’s use of the threat of terrorism as a weapon of dissent destruction.
Among other topics found in Fahrenheit 9/11 are the distortions used to justify the war against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, the plight of an American mother whose son dies in the fighting, the thoughts of American soldiers stationed in Iraq, and the bloody destruction caused by the American-led bombing of that country.
Moore, of course, also aims his camera at greedy corporations and at the inept, dishonest American media. The former group is lambasted for its eagerness to profit from the ravages of the Iraq war, while the latter is criticized for its cowardice — e.g., burying stories deemed too controversial — and for its docile acquiescence to the White House political agenda.
Moore’s attacks are particularly effective when he makes use of his caustic humor. Besides George Bush, he ridicules the American political system, the American electoral system, the American media, big corporations (especially Halliburton), several of the U.S. allies in the Iraq war, and pop singer Britney Spears.
Now, even though much of what we see in those sequences is, in fact, funny, informative, disturbing, and thought-provoking, Moore also sees fit to include unnecessary — and unproven — conspiracy theories, e.g., the Afghan war as a convenient means for Unocal to build a pipeline through that country. That is an unfortunate decision that undermines the picture’s overall credibility. After all, even though Unocal has reportedly been involved in shady deals in Central Asia, nine years after the beginning of the war in Afghanistan there’s still no Unocal pipeline in that highly volatile country.
Moore also loses ground when he attempts to personalize the war. Although some private moments are quite touching, Michael Moore, The Interviewer, comes across as both patronizing and exploitative. Additionally, for someone who has been so critical of the cowardice of both the Bush administration and the U.S. media, Moore lacks the courage to blame American military personnel for the abuse of Iraqi prisoners. Instead, he shifts the full responsibility for the heinous acts to George Bush.
Also worth noting is that Moore points his accusing camera at countless targets, but refrains from ever directing it at the millions of Americans who have thoughtlessly adhered to the dictates of the White House. “I’m a Man of the People Just Like You” Michael Moore prefers to take the stand that poor, little, innocent We the People have been duped by the big, bad Elite.
Yet, despite its flaws, Fahrenheit 9/11 is a landmark motion picture. Like the great classical tragedies (or your average soap opera), it deals with power, greed, lies, love, loss, corruption, ignorance, good, and evil — with the difference that the film’s characters are real people.
To boot, the documentary even offers a new movie monster, more frightening than Alien, Predator, or even The Thing. No, not George W. Bush, who comes across more like Larry, Moe, or Shemp than Freddy Krueger. Fahrenheit 9/11‘s Frankenstein is Britney Spears, whose blind follow-the-leader mentality is representative of a large section of the human population. And that makes her scarier than any other movie monster of past or present.
FAHRENHEIT 9/11 (2004). Dir. / Scr.: Michael Moore.