Bowling for Columbine (2002)

reviewed by
Jerry Saravia

Reviewed by Jerry Saravia
RATING: Three stars and a half

Michael Moore's latest documentary, "Bowling for Columbine," is a mess but it is the kind of mess one can glean great insight from. It is a frustrating, provocative and often powerful document of America's fascination with violence and guns. Many may scoff at its connections with larger issues but let's face it: nobody makes a compelling statement like Michael Moore.

The film begins with the scruffy Moore, wearing his trademark baseball cap, applying for a bank account at a Michigan bank. Nothing too strange except that when you open a specific account, you can receive a rifle as a special gift! It turns out that this bank is also a licensed firearms dealer! And so begins Moore's investigation into America's heartland of guns. We meet a LockHeed Martin representative who explains that he sees no connection between their weapons factory and the events of the Columbine massacre, despite the fact that LockHeed and Martin is in Littleton. Is there a connection? Of course not. But the mere fact that a weapons factory manufactures missiles that can be used in the event of a war paints a larger picture of this country's fascination with anything that can destroy human life. What if the Columbine killers were influenced by LockHeed and Martin and decided to wipe out all students at the local school? Okay, so we know that is not the case. As Moore indicates, nobody will ever know why they did it, but since we all need scapegoats to justify human behavior, then why not the President instead of shock-rocker Marilyn Manson? Manson, in a wonderful segment, says that people should have listened to the victims of Columbine. Yet how do we separate former President Clinton's own bombing of Kosovo the same night of the Columbine massacre? Perhaps Americans are conditioned to accept any leader's violent reactions to another impoverished, Third World country, thus it is easy to pick a target like Marilyn Manson who can influence young minds. Let's not forget that a recurring image at that time was Leonardo Di Caprio wearing a black trenchcoat and shooting students in his class in a violent fantasy sequence from "The Basketball Diaries," a film released four years before Columbine. Did Di Caprio influence these teen killers or is he only an easy scapegoat? Or is it the media that has more influence since they greatly influence our minds?

Moore wants to place violence in a larger context, trying to discover why America is the most violent country in the world. We learn in Canada that thousands carry firearms yet there is hardly much violence, and citizens keep their doors unlocked! The local Canadian news hardly ever features any murders as their main topics. In this country, we are conditioned to fear everything, including our next-door neighbors. We keep our doors locked! Our country's history is suffused with violence and paranoia. Today there are more violent movies and violent TV programs than ever before. However, in Japan, there is just as much violent entertainment and yet there are only a reported 65 deaths a year. Compare that statistic to this country where there are more than 11,000 deaths a year!

And yet Moore doesn't stop there. We get a staggeringly emotional montage of clips from chaotic global events like Chile, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, leading to the tragic 9/11 event where Moore makes it clear that terrorist leader Bin Laden had CIA training, along with the Taliban. Is that why it is so hard to find him? Hmm. The mind boggles. We also see a hystericallly funny and pointed animated montage of America's rise from the pilgrims to the present day. There are also interviews with the creator of the "COPS" show, Terry Nichols' brother (the former responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing), Michigan hunters, K-Mart employees who sell bullets, Dick Clark, Columbine citizens, Michigan teachers at the school where a six-year-old girl was shot by a boy the same age, and last, if not least, NRA president and movie legend Charlton Heston who declares that "mixed ethnicity" is the real culprit of violence in this country. Ouch!

I wouldn't doubt that Michael Moore staged certain scenes and not others (as he has in the past). When Moore shows Heston a photograph of the six-year-old girl, I was mortified only because the blame is not concrete (that scene is flawed in that Moore denounces Heston for having a gun rally only days after the violent incident in the same town). I still feel that moment is staged in some way, if nothing else, for Moore's own ego. The Dick Clark moment certainly looks real enough, as does the Heston scene, but the opening bank sequence, which is startlingly funny, looks staged.

One arguable notion missing from "Bowling for Columbine" is that in the early 90's, there was a lack of shame, guilt and consequences for any action, including murder - the feeling that anyone could get away with anything, and sometimes did. That is what the highly controversial "Natural Born Killers" is all about. The lack of shame seeped into the culture in such a way that alleged killer O.J. Simpson got away with murder. We need to start analyzing the media, which Moore does, and re-educate our children before they start to think violence is okay.

"Bowling for Columbine" is often powerful and riveting, and it will make you think about our culture of violence and around the world in ways few movies ever do. I sense that Moore stretches credibility at times, and plays with the documentary form (news which may not please Academy voters), but we can't help but admire him for raising issues that need to be raised. If this is what it takes to get the ball rolling, then so be it.

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