Michael Moore first burst onto the scene with his well-received documentary ROGER & ME (1989), a scathing look at how GM CEO Roger B. Smith harmed Moore’s home town of Flint, Michigan, by closing the General Motors plant there which caused 30,000 folks to lose their jobs.
Since then, Moore has made his living churning out other documentaries, films like BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE (2002), which examined gun violence in America, and won Moore an Oscar, and FAHRENHEIT 9/11 (2004) which looked at the aftermath of September 11, 2001.
Now comes FAHRENHEIT 11/9 (2018) a film in which Moore sets his sights on the current state of U.S. politics, in particular, the presidency of Donald Trump. Not that it’s just about Trump. It’s not. It also examines the tragic water scandal in Flint, Michigan, the teachers’ strike in West Virginia, and the activism of the students from Parkland, Florida, following the deadly shooting at their school.
Michael Moore has developed a reputation over the years for making documentaries that are definitely biased. When you watch a Moore documentary, you are seeing things through Moore’s eyes, and he definitely brings a slant to the material. However, I would argue that Moore’s stamp on his documentaries has less to do with forcing a narrow point of view on its audience and more with entertaining them. In short, regardless of the seriousness of the subject matter, Moore knows how to tell a good story.
I would also argue that Moore’s documentaries are more fair and balanced than people give him credit for. Take FAHRENHEIT 11/9, for example. Sure, the film goes after Trump, but it also shines some very negative light on both Hillary and Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama, the point being that it’s the political system that’s the problem nowadays, not just Donald Trump. If the film makes anything clear, it’s that the problems we have now in our political system did not begin with Trump’s winning the presidency. They were in place long before Trump won the election.
But back to the storytelling talents of Michael Moore. FAHRENHEIT 11/9 opens with images of Hillary Clinton about to win the 2016 presidential election, accompanied by Moore’s voiceover, “Was this all a dream?” We see excited voters literally crying that they’re finally voting for a woman president, TV news commentators on both sides of the political spectrum all but guaranteeing a Clinton victory, and oddsmakers pretty much saying Trump had zero chance of winning.
The action switches from Hillary’s upbeat campaign headquarters to Trump’s, and as it does, Moore plays the ominous OMEN theme on the soundtrack, an over-the-top and entertaining touch to be sure.
We then see of course what eventually happened that night, that Trump went on to win the election, to which Moore asks in more voiceover narration, “How the f*ck did that happen?”
And that pretty much sets up the rest of the movie. How did we get where we are today, and now that we’re there, what can we do about it?
Early on, the film paints an unsavory picture of Donald Trump, which isn’t hard to do, since Trump pretty much paints this picture of himself on his own. In fact, at one point Moore relates the story of how Trump was once asked how he could continually weather the storm thrown at him by the media and his critics. His reply? “I am the storm.”
Point taken. For Trump, it’s always been about being the center of attention, and that is something that has remained throughout his presidency.
Moore relates the interesting anecdote that Trump’s interest in running for president began as a publicity stunt to earn him more money for his “Apprentice” TV show, and later when he was fired from the show for making controversial comments about Mexican immigrants, he found himself with more time on his hands and decided to attend the couple of rallies he had already scheduled. When he was met by huge enthusiastic crowds, Trump decided to run for real.
The film also enters some very uncomfortable territory concerning Trump’s relationship with his daughter Ivanka. Moore says very little here and lets all the established footage and comments by Trump about his daughter speak for itself. About the only thing Moore adds is the effective question, “Is this making you feel uncomfortable?”
And as the film points out various negative aspects about Trump, from his racism to his sexism, Moore makes the point that none of this is new. He says we knew this before, and yet no one, he says, called NBC to protest Trump’s involvement on the Apprentice TV show.
The film paints a negative picture of Trump and then some, and does not shy away from comparisons to Hitler. In fact, in one of the films best segments, we see footage of Hitler at a rally, but the audio track plays the sound from a Trump rally. They seem to synchronize perfectly. But none of the anti-Trump stuff in the movie is new. You only have to watch the news or read a newspaper to know that Trump isn’t exactly a presidential kind of guy.
What FAHRENHEIT 11/9 does better than bashing Trump is making the point that he just didn’t fall out of the sky and create all these problems. They existed already.
Moore traces the current political climate back to President Clinton and how back in 1992 after Republicans had dominated presidential politics since 1980, it was decided that the best way for a Democrat to win was to sound like a Republican, and hence the centrist policies were born, as the Democrat party shifted away from its far left and moved towards the center.
This shift continued with President Obama, and Moore points out that Obama’s policies were very Republican, from his use of drones on civilian targets to incarcerating illegal immigrants. Moore makes the point that voters were so frustrated because they felt it didn’t matter who won, both parties were not looking out for their best interests, and hence a lot of people stayed home and did not vote in the 2016 election, which led to Trump’s win.
Moore also goes after Hillary Clinton and the Democratic establishment and spends time chronicling how it took primary victories away from Bernie Sanders because he wasn’t the establisment candidate.
Moore also mentions that during the election, Trump smartly moved to the left on policies more than Hillary, as he doubled down on her connections to Goldman Sachs, and reminded voters that she had voted for the Iraq war, and he said he would never have supported it. Moore’s point: Trump is not stupid.
The second half of the film largely moves away from Trump and gets into the 2014 water crisis in Flint, Michigan, going into detail over the reckless and criminal behavior of Michigan governor Rick Snyder who allowed lead contaminated drinking water into the drinking supply and did nothing to stop it. This segment, which chronicles the illnesses of the children of Flint because of the lead contamination, is the most disturbing part of the film.
Moore also shows Obama personally arriving in Flint to the cheers of the people, seeing his presence as validation to their arguments. They believed he would save them, but that’s not what happened. Obama punted on the issue and seemed to imply it wasn’t all that bad, that filtered water would be okay. Interestingly enough, Moore reveals that in the 2016 presidential election, the only candidate who took the time to visit Flint was Donald Trump.
The second point of FAHRENHEIT 11/9, after making it clear that we are in a crisis in this country, is what can we do about it? And the answer according to Moore is political activism. Moore takes us to West Virginia where we witness a successful and very necessary teacher’s strike. He takes us to Parkland, Florida, where he shows firsthand the activism of the students there after the shooting at their school. Moore also chronicles the new crop of younger more liberal candidates.
Moore also points out that the United States in spite of what Republicans claim is really a liberal nation, and he backs this assertion up with poll after poll showing a majority of Americans are pro-choice, don’t own guns, want health care, and free public college tuition, among other things.
FAHRENHEIT 11/9 runs just over two hours, and it held my interest throughout. As I said, Moore’s strength as a maker of documentaries is that he knows how to tell a story. The film provides for an entertaining two hours, and this isn’t at the expense of an informative documentary. It does both quite successfully.
Members of Team Trump will no doubt cry “fake news” but as I said Moore also goes after Hillary, Obama, and the entire Democratic establishment. Does Moore present his case with his own biases intact? Absolutely! But he backs up his opinions with real footage and interviews.
The United States is in a major political crisis here in 2018. FAHRENHEIT 11/9 makes the point that it is not the time to throw in the towel and give up, but rather, it’s the time to get out there and vote and make a difference.
If not, we will only have ourselves to blame.