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Fahrenheit 11/9

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Remember the year 2000? We all heaved a sigh of relief when Y2K didn’t happen, before turning off our discmans and reclining on the sofa to watch that new episode of The Simpsons where Lisa is the President of the United States and mentions how she has to clean up the financial mess left by President Trump. Oh, how we chortled. Yes, the new millennium was looking pretty sweet. 2001 saw us discussing that new website called Wikipedia, how strange it was that there was now a second George Bush in the White House, and whether the Baha Men would be able to top the genius of Who Let the Dogs Out? Then September 11 happened. By the following month, the invasion of Afghanistan had started.

Michael Moore’s 2003 film FAHRENHEIT 9/11 remains the highest grossing documentary of all time in the US, having taken a tad over $119 million at the box office. While this might be indicative of a wide-reaching sense of political awareness and social responsibility (the kids these days would call it being “woke.” Sigh), it should be noted that the third highest grossing documentary of all time is JUSTIN BIEBER: NEVER SAY NEVER. And yet perhaps both films make a firm argument for the decline of humanity. Moore’s film acknowledged the anger of many of the unwilling citizens who were nevertheless represented by the coalition of the willing on the global stage. This softly-spoken, middle-aged gentleman who was fond of his food became a sort of panacea for some (mainly university students), the straightforward voice of reason for others, and an object of vehement hatred for many others. He didn’t exploit our distress, but he calmly endorsed it.

The (since usurped) worst President of all time George W. Bush now spends his days painting (his book of original oil paintings hit number one on the Amazon bestsellers list in 2017) and what was once a throwaway joke on an episode of The Simpsons from nearly two decades ago has come to pass. Trump won the White House (but not the popular vote), and now Moore is back. To be fair, Moore never went away, but while recent efforts such as SICKO and WHERE TO INVADE NEXT were full of his characteristic vitality, Moore feels decidedly more relevant when large swathes of the population are unsettled. FAHRENHEIT 11/9 does little to concert the disconcerted, but once again, we can feel as though our anger has been endorsed in cinematic form. Like its similarly-monikered predecessor, FAHRENHEIT 11/9 is timely as hell.

Though you might expect a visceral two hour takedown of Trump, the film overlays other sad states of affairs that have been weighing on Moore’s mind. There’s the Parkland School shootings, teachers on strike, as well as the polluted water that flows into the homes of a number of largely African American communities (after being diverted from a cleaner supply in the name of profit). Moore sprays a truckful of this water onto the driveway of Governor Rick Snyder (who was largely responsible for the decision) in a set piece that while engaging enough, feels a little too much like something that would have been cooked up by reality TV producers. Moore’s attempt to marry all these disparate issues into the same narrative makes the overall effect a little uneven, and at times, unfocussed. It feels as though the film could be chopped down into a loosely linked short-run series on cable television (perhaps as a quasi-companion piece to Sacha Baron Cohen’s Who Is America?). The younger members of the audience, those who were still having afternoon nap times (where they weren’t allowed to be “woke”) when FAHRENHEIT 9/11 was released; these are the new politically aware creatures who will relish the elements of Moore’s latest when Trump is the clear and focused target. Look at how similar Trump and Hitler are (a moment which is boldly, shockingly, and uncomfortably hilarious)! Look at how Trump seems to want to fuck his own daughter! Moore’s amiable nature and shrewd sense of humour belies his anger. As he asks himself, and us, and the universe at large, “How the fuck did this happen?” This is a question we’re all continuing to ask. Moore doesn’t pretend there’s an answer beyond disenfranchisement which led to apathy, but it’s not all ominous. Indeed, he attempts to present a portrait of that disenfranchisement, although it’s too scattershot. It’s a nudge, rather than a wallop. There is no grand call to figurative arms (since the literal arms have already caused enough consternation and carnage), but Moore’s message in his rather compelling film seems simple enough… progressives need to progress.

Oliver Johnston

Credits

USA 2018, 128 min
Language: English
Genre: Documentary
Director: Michael Moore
Author: Michael Moore
Distributor: Weltkino
Cast: Michael Moore, Donald Trump, Barack Obama, Katie Perry
FSK: 12
Release: 17.01.2019

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