Michael Moore, the Bowling for Columbine writer and director, is one of the most influential filmmakers working today. Whether you agree with his politics and methods or not, you have to admit that he makes people think and he elicits a reaction from anyone who sees his films. This is especially true of Bowling for Columbine, Moore's documentary about America's apparent obsession with guns and gun violence.
Inspired by the tragedy at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, in which two students arrived at school with multiple firearms and began attacking other students and anyone they could, Moore's film asks the question "Are we a nation of gun nuts, or are we just nuts?" The film presents strong evidence for the latter of the two choices.
Moore and the Right Wing
Right-wing conservatives tend to dismiss Moore's work as simple liberal agenda hogwash, and they are correct in ascertaining that Moore definitely has an agenda with each film he makes. Whether it is always a "liberal" agenda is debatable, but he is definitely trying to get his point across. With Bowling for Columbine that point is often misunderstood. Conservatives believe it is an anti-gun film or one that seeks to impose stricter gun control laws in the US. In fact it is neither. Nowhere in the film does Moore suggest that guns should be outlawed in the US, nor does he make any case for or against specific gun control legislation. He is just wondering "why." Why does America have so many gun related deaths every year compared to other countries? In the film he examines that question closely and the answer, according to Moore and the evidence his film presents, is that we live in a "culture of fear."
Moore argues that the media and the government work hand in hand to keep Americans fearful. Fearful of crime, fearful of terrorism, fearful of just enough that we stay on our toes, but no so much that the country shuts down and people stay barricaded in their homes rather than go to work and be good, productive members of society.
It is a provocative argument.
That Michael Moore Wit
Again, regardless of how one feels about Michael Moore's politics or point of view, one can't help but admire the tongue in cheek way he is able to present his material. Bringing some of the surviving victims of the Columbine shootings to the corporate offices of K-Mart in an attempt to return the bullets that were shot into them is a stroke of pure genius. Confronting actor Charlton Heston (who was also the president and main spokesman for the National Rifle Association at the time) about the nation's gun problem is another. And, of course, while he makes you laugh he can also make you cry as he relates the story of a six-year-old girl who was shot at school by a classmate who had access to a handgun.
If you like what Moore has to say you'll find yourself cheering and nodding in agreement or perhaps even weeping a bit as Bowling for Columbine closes. If you disagree you may find yourself booing and hissing, treating Moore like the worst villain since Darth Vader. Whatever it is, however, you cannot walk away from a Michael Moore film, especially one as powerful as Bowling for Columbine, without feeling something. That is the mark of true art, it elicits an emotional response of some kind. Moore has perfected the documentary as art.