Fahrenheit 9/11

written and directed by Michael Moore

starring George W. Bush, Osama bin Laden, Michael Moore and Lila Lipscomb


review by Stephen Notley

I wonder how the opponents of this film, those Bush true believers, those folks who even now are writing their local theatre chains to demand it not be played, foul, slanderous pack of anti-Bush lies it must surely be, how they'll take this film should they summon the courage to face it.

I picture them, puffy, red-faced, metaphorical thumbs crammed in their ears, eyes squeezed shut, head snapping side to side in denial, "no!no!no!no!no!no!no!" buzzing through their minds. "What about Saddam's goddamn torture chambers, huh?" they bellow or post allcaps on discussion boards: "WHAT ABOUT ALL THOSE PEOPLE, HUH?  HOW COME THAT FAT FUCK DIDN'T SHOW ANY OF THAT???" How are these folks going to take some of the stuff Moore shows them?

Michael Moore is not objective. But then, neither is anybody else; any story we tell is colored by our agendas and beliefs and indelibly shaped by what we choose to tell and leave out. Duh. But for this movie, more than any of his others, Moore-haters of all stripes from froth-mouthed far righties to sniffingly disapproving liberals should be comforted to know Moore keeps himself pretty far out of the action. Sure he narrates, but after a couple of glimpses of him at the beginning it's almost a shock to see him pop up near the end for one of his shticky sting operations (ambushing senators and representatives to see if they'll sign their children up for military service).

No, in Fahrenheit 9/11, the story is the story. It's a story we here in Canada are pretty familiar with seeing as how we don't get our news from Fox, and it starts with fireworks, Al Gore's victory in the 2000 presidential election.

Except somehow we spent the last four years with Bush as president. Moore skates over the election fiasco, pointing out a couple of salient facts (like how Al Gore actually won) before settling on an unsettling part of the story: Al Gore as President of the Senate gaveling down African-American Congressional Rep after Congressional Rep furiously objecting to the disenfranchisement of tens of thousands of Americans in Florida with not one single Senator stepping in to support them when it could have counted.

But that's just the warm-up. The screen goes black, and we hear the sounds, the dull crunching explosions, the screams, and then we fade back to all in horror, everyone staring up as though to God, moving through a terrible beautiful grey snowfall of paper and person.

From there, Moore takes it to Bush with a fat pile of innuendo about Bush's longstanding ties to the Bin Laden family. This is all just handy reminder material, mostly, stuff about how some 20-odd Bin Ladens were flown out of the country no questions asked two days after 9/11, or asking when Bush gets $400,000 a year from the American taxpayer and $1.8 billion over ten years from these Saudi guys if maybe that has some kinda impact on Bush's decision-making. Moore doesn’t need to be angry, or brutal. All he has to do is show Bush in action. We see Bush in that classroom being told of the second strike, sitting there for seven minutes. We imagine ourselves that day, what we did when we heard, our seconds of shock as we absorbed what was going on, our immediate need to grab the phone and start making some calls, and we think, "Gosh, y'know, if I was the *President*… I bet I'd have some people I needed to talk to." But no, he sits there like a little kid waiting for teacher's permission to leave the class.

Moore goes on to touch on his culture of fear theme from Bowling For Columbine, taking shots at the USAPATRIOT Act and John Ashcroft before heading off to Iraq for more revelations and the first of several gut punches the movie has in store. We've been shielded from the ugly brutalities of this war. Moore doesn't dwell on them, but he hits you, footage of helicopter gunsights disintegrating silhouetted human beings, good-ol'-boy soldiers quietly getting out "We called in an air strike, and then we were driving along the road, saw women, children… girls with their noses melted off… it's not… it's…", a man running past us clutching his ragdoll son, gung-ho soldiers goin' off about getting' the good tunes rollin' inside the tank sound system, *burn* muthafukka *burn* muthafukka *BURN*! And then Britney, of course, saying we gotta stand 100% behind the President.

This would be enough, but to make this real to Americans we have to see an American suffer, and so we come to Lila Lipscomb of Flint, Michigan. Her son was killed in Iraq. We hear her read his final letter, tell of the phone call, wander and argue and sag on the White House grounds. If we'd walked past her right then we might've thought she'd jogged a little too far too fast but no,we know her staggered, contorted, almost comical posture is made of grief deep in her gut. "My son is dead."

I wonder what the Moore-hating Bush-lover thinks and feels as he sees that moment. Retreat to the level of abstraction--"Saddam was a threat! 3000 were killed on 9/11! They want to destroy us!" --by which he justified these horrors in the first place? Rage at being made to feel this pain? Personal hatred of Michael Moore?

What is certain is that he and all Americans need to see Fahrenheit 9/11 and respond for themselves. This is their story and they're still writing it, and they need to experience and understand some of what they're doing to the world and themselves. Hate Moore, love him, hate America, love it, whatever, see Fahrenheit 9/11.

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