FAHRENHEIT 11/9. Documentary starring Michael Moore, Roger Ailes, Brooke Baldwin, Steve Bannon, George Bush, Bill Clinton and others, as themselves. Directed by Michael Moore. Rated M (Mature themes and coarse language). 128 min.
This political documentary by Michael Moore provides a provocative look at the 2016 Presidential election in the United States, and the ensuing presidency of Donald Trump. It sets out to examine two questions: How did the US elect Trump as its President, and what can the US do about it?
The title of the documentary alludes to the 1953 novel “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury which is about an imagined future American society in which suffering and injustice are inflicted on people to try to stop them thinking independently. The mention of 11/9 alludes to the coordinated attack on the United States by terrorists that took place on Tuesday, September 11th., 2001; in this respect, Moore wants to signal that Trump is “destroying” democracy. The title further references Moore’s previous documentary, “Fahrenheit 9/11” (the highest grossing documentary of all time) which won the Palme d’or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2004.
The movie is vintage, and at times excessive, Michael Moore. We are responsible for what has occurred, Moore says, and must do something about it. In this film, he explicitly targets democracy, and calls for urgent action to do something about the threat to democracy associated with the events that have occurred. Democracy in the US, he says, is “aspirational”, not real.
This is a structurally loose film that moves in many different directions. After Trump’s election. Moore looks closely at corruption associated with a water crisis in his hometown of Flint, Michigan, where its drinking water was poisoned with lead. He then proceeds to make Flint a microcosm for the US nation as a whole. The link between Trump and Michigan’s water crisis, however, needs more thought than a claim that both show “political corruption” at work.
In the film, Moore attacks Obama, the Clinton’s, as well as the Democrats and Trump, and he particularly targets liberal apathy. Moore wants to put a fire cracker under self-satisfied liberals who trust the political system, when he says they shouldn’t. In this film, as in all his documentaries, his commentary is reinforced by archival footage and sundry interviews of experts on a variety of political and social issues, including gun control, racial bias, and media complicity.
Clearly, Moore would like his film to be “ the beginning of the end of Donald Trump”, and he wants to urge people to embrace some form of activism. But in the final run, he seems less interested in Trump as a cause than wanting to rail against the disillusionment he perceives in the American political system. The water crisis in his hometown is highly dramatic, and so compelling is the early sections of his documentary on the problems of his hometown, that one wishes there was a full Moore-like probe into the water crisis in Flint, and its possible solutions.
Given the film’s wide berth, it argues strongly that focused democracy necessarily means that people have to express their opinions, just as this film does. People need to rise up, Moore argues, to say what they think of a system that gave them Trump. Basically, the film targets the attitudes in America that led to Trump’s election, and which gave him power. When Moore asks “How did this happen?”, he really means “Why didn’t you care?”, and “You can vote to change things”. Democratic inactivity, he says, has put the US political system at high risk.
This film is thoughtful, but provocative. Moore wears his preconceptions openly on his sleeve. He routinely chastises others for their crimes, neglect, and gross manipulations, and what he says is mostly worth of attention. His use of Trump’s voice coming out of archival images of Hitler addressing the masses, though, should stretch the limits of most viewers’ level of acceptance.
Moore characteristically dares the viewer to think more carefully about the issues he takes up, and this movie is no exception to that rule. This is not one of Moore’s best documentaries, but it stimulates thought and has high political relevance.
Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Released November 1st., 2018