Guns under fire
Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore takes a nasty look at gun culture and violence in the United States with Bowling for Columbine. The film doesn’t always shoot straight, but Moore certainly knows how to run an entertaining question and answer session.
The film asks serious questions, sometimes taking a serious approach. In other moments, it resembles a sort of photojournalism version of Jackass, with an interviewer and his crew going out into the public for a news story, and performing a bunch of wild and wacky stunts. Some people get hurt, but it’s for a cause, and Moore has got balls.
Moore sets out basically to answer one question with this film: Why is the United States’ violent crime rate so disproportionately high when compared to that of other countries? The answer that Moore seems to be presenting is: Because Americans are nuts!
The film is at its best when simply illustrating our culture’s insane love affair with the firearm. When Moore spots an ad in a newspaper—for a bank offering free guns to those opening accounts—it’s a great set-up for one of the year’s funniest screen moments. Moore opens an account, gets himself a gun, and happily brandishes it for the cameras as he leaves the building.
The film feels manipulative at times. When considering murder rates in other countries like Canada and Germany, Moore never mentions population differences. The number of people murdered in shooting incidents in this country is mighty frightening, but Moore’s presentation of the statistics seems fudged. He’s like an eighth grader turning in a term paper on the subject, but only using the knowledge he or she gained from watching TV.
It is damned funny when Moore somehow finagles an interview with Charlton Heston, who spoke at an NRA rally shortly after the Columbine shootings. Heston welcomes Moore into his home, where Moses gets ambushed. Heston squirms as he realizes that Moore is not there to praise the NRA, but to condemn him for his faulty convention scheduling.
This technique is pathetically funny at first, but Moore perhaps goes too far. Although Heston attempts to conduct a dialogue with Moore, Moore clearly has one intention: To make Heston look like a doddering old fool.
He accomplishes this mission, then implores Heston to look at a photo of a small girl murdered in a shooting accident. On one hand, it’s amazing that this interview was allowed to take place, but using a shooting accident to guilt trip Heston achieves nothing. Heston’s brain went on vacation sometime shortly after 1974’s Earthquake, and his opinion on this matter can hardly be termed expert or necessary. He’s just a mouthpiece for gun lovers, and Moore proves this before going too far with the child’s photo.
Two other extraordinary interviews include a sit-down with musician Marilyn Manson, who offers some of the films more concise, thoughtful and mature explanations for a violent society. Absolutely terrifying is John Nichols, one of the biggest idiots ever to be videotaped. Nichols’ brother is convicted Timothy McVeigh accomplice Terry Nichols, who is serving time for his role in the Oklahoma City bombing. Nichols defends his right to keep a handgun under his pillow, and then leads Moore to his bedroom, where he casually cocks his gun and holds it to his own head for laughs.
Bowling For Columbine asks a lot of questions, sometimes in an unfair manner, and while it doesn’t get many answers, it is always fascinating. There are some nuts in this country, and it seems all of them are granting interviews to Mr. Moore. Unfortunately for us, they also own a lot of guns.