Monday, August 16, 2004

Fahrenheit 9-11

I'm posting this review quite a while after I've seen the film in order to digest it, particularly the dubious elements of the film. If you've just clicked on to this blog for the first time, know that I am a moderate Democrat who thinks a stacked Supreme Court installed Bush illegally in the White House. I don't care that Gore won the popular election, because that's not how our country works; we have an electoral college, so that's what counts. However, I do believe the Republicans did many shady, and in some cases illegal, things to swing the key Florida election to Bush. Had the election been run completely above board there, I firmly believe Gore would be the President right now. (And he would probably be in very real danger of being voted out of office after 4 years, too.) I disagree with about every policy the neocons (whom I often call "wingnuts") have put in place; I am pretty much diametrically opposed. Their exploitation of the 9-11 terrorist attacks to push through huge chunks of their agenda will go down as one of the turning points in history, for better or worse - and probably worse; our grandkids will read about it in school and wonder what was wrong with us. Had moderate Republicans held sway at any time in my adulthood, I probably would be a Republican, because I do agree with many moderate Republican ideals. But I also agree with many Democratic ideals, and the neocons currently run the Republican party, so there you have it. (The far loony left of the Democratic party to me is as unattractive as the neocons, btw, but I think they have no chance of taking over the party in the same way the neocons took over the Republicans.) And I don't feel that I've chosen the lesser of two evils, mind you, I just agree with a lot of moderate viewpoints, which tend to have truck on both sides of the aisle. So now that my politics are on my sleeve, let's talk about this flawed movie.

Propaganda really is the most accurate term for this kind of film. Now, not all propaganda is bad. For instance, the "safe sex" campaign is propaganda. What's organically wrong with propaganda is it tries to remove your ability to form your own opinion and having all the facts at hand. It plays to your emotions, and often lies by omission to bolster its case. But, if you are using propaganda to get your kids to wear prophylactics, is that a bad thing? So, when even members of the notorious Nixon administration are saying that this is the most secretive and potentially corrupt administration they've ever seen (and that's not even touching the PATRIOT act, the gerrymandering and the false pretense for war), is it so bad that someone is making effective propaganda to shed some light on that side of the dilemma? You be the judge of that.

This film is quasi-effective in painting those issues in big bold strokes that can be seen even from the cheap seats, which is the point. The audience of the showing I attended was exclusively retirees and a class of students (college or high school, I couldn't tell); I was the only person there between the cradle and grave contingent. The old folks gasped and remarked as some of the more outlandish offenses perpetrated by the Bush team crawled by. The kids were all glum and clearly pissed off throughout (even throwing harsh glances at me, obviously not understanding that my occasional laughter was the cynical and not the amused kind). The audience was enthralled.

So, Outside of being good at what it does, the film has some flaws. But these are the same flaws that all of Moore's film have, so I think they can be attributed to his usual blind spots and not so much to deviousness or purposeful intent to skew the truth. Btw, I didn't see any outright lies, but it came pretty close during a little montage that portrayed pre-war Iraq as a shiny happy place where people were getting married and little boys flew kites. The point intended, of course, was that people were going on with their lives underneath this ruthless dictator, and they suffered along with the regime when the war came. But plenty of Germans and Japanese lives were disrupted or lost during WWII, too, and would we have hesitated to fight them?

Many others have made much of the minutes where Bush sat in that classroom after he'd been told of the second attack. Moore narrates what Bush might be thinking at the time, and it made me squirm, because it was what Moore would have thought with 20/20 hindsight, not what the President would think during perhaps one of the most horrific things that can happen to a nation. Others have painted Bush as seeming ineffectual, lost, and even cowardly during those terrible minutes. I didn't see that at all. I saw a man who was dealing with some pretty terrible information in front of a bunch of kids whom he didn't want to frighten. I saw honest shock. I also saw him thinking about all he had to do next. So, in my opinion, everyone playing armchair quarterback after all this time as to what was going on in his head is specious, at best.

My other big problem was what I felt was the exploitation of the woman who had lost her son in the war. The painting of the background of her story, her telling her kids that the military was their best shot at getting an education and her conservative Democratic political view, was useful and informative, as was the news of her sons death in combat. But the overly long clips of her grieving over her lost child are inappropriate, especially where, at one point, she leans over because she's crying so hard, and the camera dips down in order to stay trained on her face. Yes, it's terrible to lose a child. But he joined the service, and that's what the service does my friends. That doesn't lessen anyone's grief, and it shouldn't. But Moore stumbled the most by framing that section the way he did.

Moore usually has one big gaffe in all of his films. The fact that he leaves it in either shows that he doesn't understand how it might be perceived, or he's making a braver choice in showing how he followed a false path, and felt compelled to show it anyway. This was particularly stark in Bowling for Columbine, where he more or less proved it was our American media scaring us to death and not really the number of - or easy access to - guns that was behind gun violence in America. He was so intent on staying with his premise that he needlessly and embarrassingly blindsided the polite Charlton Heston with bullshit questions about his NRA rallies (as the president of the organization), implying that they were somehow insidious - even after Moore had shown it was the media and not gun ownership that was the problem.

That aside, I felt Fahrenheit 9-11 showed the American men and women (really boys and girls) fighting the war in a fair light. It veers close to casting them as mindless goons who like to put on heavy metal and giggle away whilst blasting the targets with their BFG 2000s - even though that's what in essence the military is rightly trained to do - but it does balance that by showing those same soldiers after that, who say straight out that war is not a video game, that their souls are wounded in the very act of taking a life, and the carnage they have to witness will be a scar they carry for life. This does underline the point that because they were sent over there on false pretenses, the loss of life and their innocence is a price this administration had no business asking anyone to pay. I don't feel once that it portrays our soldiers in a bad light. Thank God.

In the end, it's a mixed bag. I'm thrilled that it's out there showing the public at large who don't read the newspapers or the web (or only have access to neocon-tinted media) many of the crucial behind-the-scenes facts about Bush, his family, and his ties to Arabian oil wealth. I'm thrilled it spells out what the PATRIOT act really is, and the facts of the last election. It's wonderful that the movie does not put you through seeing those towers burn again, but instead plays the sound of the jets hitting while showing a black screen. It's the perfect reminder without dragging out all that terror and grief in a way that would overwhelm the rest of the movie. But, he should've drastically shortened the grieving mom section, skipped the happy Iraq silliness, left the army/marine recruiters alone, and put in more about the various policies of the Bush and the good ole boys that can stand on their own as indictments (or praises, if that's the way you lean) of this administration.

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