Director: Michael Moore
In his new movie Michael Moore tackles many social issues such as healthcare, feminism, education, crime and politics. Many of the “good ideas” he encounters in his travels are ones that I wholeheartedly, ideologically agree with. I feel like this is something I should make clear from the start because the issue of ideology and bias in reviews is one that is often brought up when these kind of films are being discussed. There are some who would argue that critics should leave their personal beliefs out of reviews and should just focus on the movie itself. A fair argument, but not one that I agree with. I, like many other critics, believe that reviews cannot help but be personal because the experience of watching a movie is unique to each individual viewer. Since I share many of Moore’s political and moral beliefs, I feel like it would be dishonest of me to keep those views hidden regardless of whether I actually liked the movie or not. As it happens, I did like it.
In this movie Michael Moore assumes the role of an invader. His plan is to invade a host of nations in pursuit of good ideas for the USA to adopt. He starts off in Italy where he learns that workers enjoy generous amounts of paid holidays and parental leave. In France he finds a school where the children enjoy high-class nutritious meals. He finds another school in Sweden which has seen remarkable results following the abolishment of homework and standardised testing. Over in Slovenia he meets students who have attained a university education without having to pay a single tuition fee. Next is Germany where workers have achieved a hugely comfortable balance between their professional and personal lives. Over in Portugal he learns about how a progressive change in their drugs policy and the abolition of the death penalty has had a positive effect on the country. He is then surprised in Norway to find their astonishingly humane prison system. Meanwhile in Tunisia he finds that the women have managed to create a healthcare system that enables them to take control over their own bodies. Finally he ventures to Iceland where he discovers the amazing progress they’ve made following the rise of women to power.
The point that Moore is making is a simple one: these are all good ideas that work, why aren’t we doing the same things in America? That simplicity works both for and against the film. Moore can certainly be accused of excessively simplifying the problems he presents and also for being too one-sided in his arguments. Solving the enormous number of problems that the USA faces and implementing change upon a vast nation with its own complex culture, political system and economy is not as simple as pointing at a few neat ideas in other countries. But Moore knows this. He’s smart enough to know that Rome wasn’t built in a day just like he knows that a single movie cannot solve all the world’s problems. By being so unabashedly simplistic in his approach perhaps all Moore wants us to take away from this film is the simple fact that these ideas exist and that they do work.
What Moore finds to be the most startling as he encounters these good ideas is the revelation that many of them were inspired by the USA. The humane prison system in Norway is based on the principle of the US constitution against “cruel and unusual punishment”. It was in America that the Equal Rights Movement for women first started, a movement that reached global proportions and that led to Vigdís Finnbogadóttir of Iceland becoming the world’s first democratically elected female president. Moore also observes that in 1846 it was his home state of Michigan that was the first modern society to abolish the death penalty, an example that Portugal has since followed. At the very end he returns to Germany to look at the remains of the Berlin Wall, a structure he saw collapse nearly thirty years ago. He reflects on how unthinkable such a monumental event would have been before 1989 and on the remarkable progress that the world has made in the three decades since. This thought gives him hope that something that might be considered inconceivable today might not be so out of reach thirty years in the future.
While this film may be simplistic in its approach and resolution its content still remains very much valid. The places Moore visits and the people he meets are all real and the ideas they practice are shown to work. Michael Moore is a documentarian who understands that being objective isn’t the same thing as being neutral and makes no apologies for presenting such a brazenly one-sided argument. In all of his movies Moore has maintained the principle that a problem is a problem is a problem and has never been afraid to shine a spotlight onto it. He’s using this film as megaphone to announce that if something clearly doesn’t work and never has, then it needs to be replaced with something that does. That he’s able to do this in a way that succeeds in being funny, engaging and entertaining rather than preachy and self-indulgent makes this film all the more worth watching. It’s very possible that the film only appears that way to me because it appealed to my liberal ideals, but I still thoroughly enjoyed this film for its eye-opening discoveries, entertaining format and optimistic conclusion.