I caught a midday showing of Fahrenheit 9/11 down at the Metreon today. I walked in knowing Moore’s trying to get you to walk out feeling a certain way, and in that regard, the movie was pretty much what I expected it to be.
The first section deals with 9/11 and the Bush / Saudi / Bin Laden connection. I could definitely have done without the footage of 9/11 itself. As I’ve said before 9/11 is a very painful topic for me so I prefer to not be reminded of exactly how painful that day was. I suppose Moore wanted to get some emotional punch in before drawing all the lines between the Bushes, the Bin Ladens, and the Saudis, but it felt a little too much like I was being manipulated to feel bad.
After that, Moore deals with the various responses to 9/11 -Afghanistan and the Patriot Act mostly. And here’s what I didn’t expect. I laughed. Several parts of the middle section – particularly when two Marine recruiters in full dress uniforms are walking around a parking lot in Flint, MI looking to sign up new recruits – are quite funny in a snarky sort of way.
Moore also sidetracks into one of his bete noires – how African Americans get screwed in America. It’s a valid point that most of the kids in the armed forces are from poor backgrounds, but I think he’s stretching a point by implying that they’re all black. The issue is class not skin color. Even Moore’s own footage of Iraq shows more white faces in uniform than anything else.
And speaking of the Iraq footage – I have no idea how he got the stuff but it’s very raw and powerful. In a way I felt that this section of the movie was the most original, in that it’s something that nobody is actually showing to us here right now. It’s not easy to watch soldiers crying out in pain right after being attacked, burned bodies being dragged through streets, or soldiers putting hoods on prisoners’ heads and cracking jokes about erections. These are images that show us what is really going on in our name, though, and we need to understand exactly what price we’re paying.
It’s been widely reported that the story of Lila Lipscombe and how she loses her son in Iraq is the emotional heart of the film. It is sad, but somehow it didn’t affect me as deeply. What did make me cry? A little earlier in the film, Moore overlaid the theme song from notable 80s TV flop “The Greatest American Hero” on top of footage of Bush’s trip to an aircraft carrier to declare combat operations “over”. It’s a cheesy song but for whatever reason I have always liked it. The juxtaposition of a song I like over pictures of President Bush surrounded by happy troops was a somewhat surreal combination. And then at the line in the song that goes “Should have been somebody else” I started to cry, thinking we should have had Gore as president instead of this loser.
Yes, I’m probably weird for crying at that point instead of when Lila Lipscombe’s son dies. But that’s how it happened.
I’m glad I saw the film. I don’t think it’s going to change many – if any – minds, mostly because the people who most need to see it (hello Dad, are you reading this?) won’t bother going. And honestly, I don’t see why it got the Palme d’Or at Cannes except as a way of expressing support for the political views in the film. Unlike previous winners with a war theme, like “The Pianist” or “Apocalypse Now”, I don’t see people watching Fahrenheit 9/11 10 years from now. It’s a move for 2004, not for the ages.
All that said, it says a lot about America that despite all the problems our nation has, a film like this can be made and distributed and people can go see it without fear of reprisal. And it’s a film worth seeing.