Farenheit 9/11 – Calm Down!

This post first appeared on http://www.joyofmovies.com

Michael Moore is not renowned for his subtlety; you don’t sit down to one of his films or books expecting nuanced argument and debate. That is, of course, both his genius and (in the eyes of some) his downfall. What you get is a barrage of facts crammed thorough the lens of sarcasm and barely disguised vitriol. He’s over the top, funny and rich. When the subject matter is the Bush administration’s response to 9\11 and the subsequent Iraq war, you expect the emotion to be ramped up a gear or two. It is. Inevitably, there are times he shoots himself in the foot (or other, potentially more fatal places). It’s best to get those out of the way first.

There a few small issues, but three big ones really loom over this film. First, there’s his approach to the armed forces. At one stage there’s a series of interviews with US soldiers serving in Iraq, talking about the adrenalin rush of battle and the heavy metal music they listen to that soundtracks the killing for them. Moore allows us to see them as testosterone fuelled morons, with no moral grid. Later, we come to the mother of soldier who lost his life in Iraq. She is a rare individual; consumed by rage and grief, but compassionate and articulate too. Unlike Moore. He listens to her story, follows her tearful journey to the White House in an attempt to gain some closure. But as we watch, the earlier portrait of her son’s colleagues is inescapable in the memory. Would she have agreed to the interviews if she had seen these sections of the film? It’s unlikely, and it’s hypocrisy and manipulation on an alarming level.

Second, more briefly, there’s the coalition of the willing. This is dismissed as a series of minor states with no armed forces of their own. Their cultures are satirised and patronised. Apparently, the US army did all the fighting themselves. Wrong. My countrymen and women died too. So did others. That these are ignored is downright offensive. An acknowledgement would have been valuable.

Third is the bizarre implication that before the coalition’s invasion of Iraq, Saddam’s country was a peaceful, happy place where children played innocently on the street. Need we say any more about that?

It’s difficult to lay those concerns to one side, but as you do, you reflect on some brilliant moments; the portrayal of 9\11 is a masterpiece of heartbreaking simplicity; a black screen, the sounds, and a series of shots of the faces of onlookers. Truly it’s the shadow that hangs inescapably over the film and a generation. Also remarkable is the fact that a complex train of argument over the Bush family’s links to Saudi oil money is traced in an entertaining fashion. At times, you almost sense the gift of a great teacher.

But then you remember what makes a democracy – the right of reply, or at least to have a case stated. There’s nothing of that here; no-one gets a word in; images and words are manipulated as skilfully by Moore as by any politician. The findings of the independent 9\11 commission are barely mentioned, particularly where they contradict Moore (such as on the issue of Saudi flights out of the USA after 9\11). Of course the commission may be wrong, but why’s Moore so scared of even acknowledging the possibility?

Rage of the type Moore vents brooks no reason, which is ironic when you consider that lack of reason is what he hates so much in this administration. There is sin to be confronted here, for sure. But compare Moore’s approach with the Biblical prophet Nathan. Calmly and clearly, he goes to the top. And as with all prophets judgement is bought in the context of the possibility of grace, mercy and restoration. It’s been to shown to us, but it never even crosses Moore’s mind. He’s too busy getting angry.