Writer-director/caring-nurturer Michael Moore's finally admitted it-and, as Stuart Smalley would say, "That's... OK."
America's socio-political life, our very soul as a nation, seems unmanageable thanks to the unraveling of Sept. 11, 2001 and the current morass in Iraq. Powerless in the face of a ruling-class system that seems to cycle between the extreme dystopias of Brave New World and 1984, Moore's just the postmodern auteur-trickster to take the first steps toward recovery from this sickness. Fahrenheit 9/11 is his moment of clarity for us.
It'll be hard under the coming media blitz and controversy, but it's easy to see Moore's usually brilliant, self-satisfied gonzo-goes-verité filmmaking (Roger & Me, Bowling for Columbine) has evolved into something far more valuable than his rich promise as your run-of-the-mill Al Franken liberal. Moore's focus has always been fearlessly political, but for all the hyper-partisanship swirling about Fahrenheit 9/11, politics is not where the movie is most compelling.
The film is groundbreaking cinema, to be sure. The pacing is sluggish for a short spell, but otherwise a unique mix of archival editing, news clips, highly intimate interviews and rarely seen war footage-cut and pasted together with the quick, self-referential style of a postmodern Lenny Bruce. As a statement of highly passionate, personal political dissidence, Moore will be reviled and validated on both sides of our one-in-two party system. But what they'll probably miss is how Moore has turned a corner on this project.
In this film he's surrendered unselfishly to the process of showing such a complicated, convoluted story without crassing it up to make some studio test audience happy. Interspersed with innovative, visual one liners and his penchant for inserting hilarious pop-song puns, Fahrenheit 9/11 also includes some of the longest, most uncomfortable scenes ever committed to celluloid-including a grandmother screaming "Where are you God?" near rubble burying her family, and two Iraqi women huddled under the gun-barrel lights of Americans in a pitch-black house.
Moore's approach is emotionally manipulative-and amazing at times. Sure, the long takes on weeping family members smacks of TV-news tabloid, unless we consider the endgame in mind here. So when someone accuses the Moore crew of "staging" a scene at the White House (a fight Moore would have relished in the past), it goes without follow up-for it only speaks to the depths of ignorance and delusion necessary to fool a nation of millions.
Instead, in uncovering a brutal litany of amazing conflicts, commiseration, ineptitude and outright lying by the Bush administration, Moore still shows both contempt and empathy in his portrayal of Bush and Cheney and their ilk. In long, pre-broadcast opening shots, "villains" Bush and Cheney appear both smug and horrified. The secrets are there, you can imagine the stress of the lies, and so it's possible to sympathize with them. Moore's morality may indeed judge them, but his lens is truly unemotional at such moments. It's the closest to the truth the medium can get.
It's not "fair and balanced," no. But Moore the director's utter lack of interest in confronting the villains face to face, a là Chuck Heston in Bowling for Columbine, makes sense. When you've already made a film wherein Marilyn Manson is the voice of reason, what's left to say? Forget logic. Forget debate. We've got a problem-we're addicted to oil and power and money and the promise of jobs at Wal-Mart or a Saturn with nice rims someday. It may sound hopeless. It's certainly rock bottom, when you've been duped-tricked!-by George W. Bush, a man who takes pride in not reading the newspaper.
It's enough, Moore seems to say with every drawn-out segment of pain and rage and humor and fear in the film: give up. Quit fighting it, this is us. We've got a problem. But there are steps for recovery. Michael Moore, once again-and most heartbreakingly optimistic in Fahrenheit 9/11-has carried the message. Consider this movie his intervention for us.
The next step is up to us.