2018, R, 125 min. Directed by Michael Moore.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Sept. 21, 2018
Longtime muckraker and leftist firebrand Michael Moore disseminates a call to action with his latest documentary/personal essay, Fahrenheit 11/9. Technically, what’s on display may not be the Oscar winner’s finest go at filmmaking, but never has his message seemed more urgent and unaffected. Playing off the title of his highest grossing movie Fahrenheit 9/11, which examined the fallacies of George W. Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Moore here addresses the decline of American democracy and the increased peril the ideal faces from the Trump administration. Furthermore, he hustled to get the film made and released prior to the November midterm elections. Moore, whose insights into Hillary Clinton’s Rust Belt weaknesses were disregarded by the Democratic Party prior to the 2016 election, clearly intends to go bigger and louder this election cycle.
After a prologue about that election, Moore, who narrates the film in his typically impish but ardent fashion, asks his essential question: “How the fuck did this happen?” He then sets about examining some of the reasons, drilling down on election statistics and, at one point, even citing his own complicity. (Among other things, Jared Kushner hosted the opening-night party for Moore’s film Sicko, a broadside against America’s broken health care system.) The filmmaker also claims Trump only decided to run for president as a rebuke to NBC, which hired Gwen Stefani to appear on The Voice at a salary greater than what they were paying him for The Apprentice.
Eventually, Moore segues into the water catastrophe in Flint, Mich., the filmmaker’s beloved hometown. He details the maneuvers of Gov. Rick Snyder, which not only caused the water failure, but also how the governor’s emergency management system eroded democracy. At times, the Flint story seems like a lengthy tangent, but Moore retains his focus on the nation’s steady slide away from democracy by visiting with the teachers in West Virginia, whose strike for better wages spurred uprisings in other states; the Parkland, Fla., students, who so movingly and eloquently argue for gun restrictions; and new grassroots candidates gaining traction in regional elections. It’s from citizens like these that Moore gains inspiration.
Occasionally, Moore resorts to his old jokey gambits (like watering the Michigan governor’s lawn with water from Flint), but largely he keeps this tendency in check. And if his analogy between Trump and Hitler seems a bit garish, keep in mind that Moore uses it to cogently demonstrate how autocracies can arise amid the most erudite and democratic societies. He also argues that the biggest voting group of Americans are its nonvoters, and that these are the people who need to be mobilized. Democracy is an aspiration, not a given, notes Moore astutely.Fahrenheit 11/9 made its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival where it was accorded the honor of Opening-Night Documentary. Moore, despite his notorious comedy flop Canadian Bacon, is beloved in Canada, where many of his films have premiered. With the advantage of distance, perhaps our northern neighbors can more easily pick up on Moore’s truths.