MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Directed by Michael Moore. Documentary.
There is a well-known curse: “May you live in interesting times”. There are days that I wish things weren’t quite so interesting, but it is clear that many people (including the church) are living in an age of anxiety (a description coined by W. H. Auden in 1947).
Michael Moore was an unknown reporter for regional newspapers when he made his first film Roger & Me in 1989, a movie that focused on how General Motors had left his hometown of Flint, Michigan destitute when it closed down its plant and moved jobs to Mexico.
Now everyone seems to know Michael Moore as a rabble-rousing celebrity, with his baseball cap and long hair. He made a name for himself with Bowling for Columbine (his 2002 Academy Award winning documentary on gun violence) and his 2004 critique of the Bush administration’s response to the Twin Towers tragedy in Fahrenheit 9/11. I can speak from personal and pastoral experience that the name “Michael Moore” spoken in Christian circles can divide a room quicker than Moses could part the Red Sea.
I am now persuaded that Moore’s films will always be a mixed bag of great investigative reporting, sloppy investigative reporting, sincere indignation, feigned outrage, partisan politics, unifying principles, helpful factoids, and shameless half-truths.
Fahrenheit 11/9 begins with an overblown funeral elegy regarding Donald Trump’s election as President in 2016 (and Hilary Clinton’s defeat), guaranteeing that Trump voters and Hilary “haters” will both tune out. This is an unfortunate editorial misstep, for the section of this film in which Moore returns to Flint and reveals the duplicity behind the events leading to city-wide lead poisoning in the Flint River water supply is disturbing and well-documented, showing that local and national leadership from both political parties (including President Obama) were culpable in creating a tragedy that never had to happen.
The film’s depiction of young progressive politicians running for office is quite inspiring (although it would have been great to see this balanced with thoughtful conservative voices) and the film’s thesis that democracy needs fixing is something that the majority of folks from both sides of the aisle would agree on.
It is a sad commentary that our denomination’s focus on social justice has been compromised by our current political divide. You may or may not care for Michael Moore’s methods (I’m certainly not all in) but as followers of Jesus who proclaim the reign of God in which everyone in valued and accepted, we need to listen to this film’s call to action. If we want to persuade people that Christ matters, the world needs to see the love of Christ in us. Every day is a new opportunity for us to widen the circle of grace and remove the line in the sand.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Three halos: A subjective but impassioned call to action for justice and democracy.
Three pitchforks: Occasional swearing; outright deception and corruption by political leadership; frequent lapses in reportage; manipulative images approaching propaganda.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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