“Fahrenheit 9/11” Reviewed

It’s pretty good.

A friend told me a while ago that he hadn’t voted in the 2000
presidential election. He told me that he had given up his right to
complain by doing so — he was removing himself from the poltical
world entirely, and he would go along with whatever happened.

I didn’t know what to say to him then. How do you have an argument
with someone whose only response is “I don’t care”? The thing is, not
caring is a safe position to take. In almost all cases, you can rely
upon the fact that someone else will do the hard work of caring for
you, no matter what position you take on nearly any issue. There are
activists of every kind who will spend hours defending your position
for you. Why bother? Why bother doing anything at all?

I want to say to him now: please go see Fahrenheit
9/11
.

It is the best Michael
Moore
movie I have seen. What marks it as such a success is that
no matter how you feel about George
W. Bush
, the war on terrorism, or Halliburton, the movie still
communicates its message to you. The world that Fahrenheit 9/11
presents to us is sheer madness, a world gone completely batshit,
worse than even Hunter S. Thompson dreamed back in Vegas. Whether you
believe this world to be a complete fantasy or a frightening reality
is up to you. Either way, though, the same thing will happen.

You will care about what is happening in our country today.

It is emotion that makes us care. When you choose to vote for one
candidate over another, you make a rational choice (hopefully) — same
as when you decide how much you agree with Moore’s arguments. But
there is a core of emotion to the decision. You want your government
to do what you feel is right, and you believe that its actions are
significant. You may want things to change or to stay the same, but
more than anything, you want something.

The movie’s credit sequence is breathtaking. There’s an extended
prologue that chronicles Bush’s election and first year in office
(i.e. where not too much happened), but the real beginning of the film
is the credits, where Bush and the members of his cabinet are shown
being prepped to be on-camera — make-up, hair styling, all the
things that go into creating the people who speak at press
conferences, photo ops, Congressional hearings. These people have been
carefully constructed ever since Kennedy
debated Nixon
on TV. They have to look perfect.

Finally, we can see them when they aren’t what they want us to see. We
are allowed to guess what’s on their minds as they sit perfectly
still, eyes closed, as hands dart across their faces. Dick Cheney is a
man at peace; he is exactly where he wants to be. Colin Powell seems
troubled. It’s hard to tell whether it’s because of what has already
happened, or what soon could happen. Paul Wolfowitz is crude
and doesn’t care who knows it, and Condoleeza Rice is still a mystery
to me. Bush is anxious — he keeps dodging around as a hairstylist
tries to put on the final touches.

The movie is at its best when Moore lets the images carry the weight
of the story — in other words, when he allows the camera to act as an
observer alone. One of the most insane moments of the film is when
Bush is told about the second plane crashing into the World Trade
Center. He has already been told about the first airliner that
morning, but with the details still sketchy, he decides to go ahead
with a planned photo op at a Florida elementary school. Andrew Card,
his chief of staff, leans over in the middle of it and whispers: “A
second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack.”

Bush sits there, an indecipherable look on his face. No one is
completely sure how long he sat there. The safest guess is around
seven minutes
. Somewhere during that time, press secretary Ari
Fleischer holds up a written note: DON’T SAY ANYTHING YET. But Bush
receives no instructions as to what he should do.

Seven minutes on September 11, 2001 is an eternity.

The movie is at its worst when Moore first asks the question that
everyone is already thinking: “What was going through his mind?” and
then supplies his own answer: “Maybe I’ve been hanging out with the
wrong crowd.” It’s Moore’s way of making a transition to his next
topic, how the Bush family and the ruling class of Saudi Arabia are
inextricably linked. But doodling in a thought balloon over Bush’s
head is too cute, I feel, for something so serious and damning as this
footage is.

It also feels a hair too cute when Michael Moore does his usual prank
journalism shtick. I used to love these back when I was in high school
and he was doing TV
Nation
. It felt like satire and irony were the best weapons
against corporate corruption and general evil-doing by the likes of Newt
Gingrich
.

But now it feels wrong to put footage of Moore driving around Capitol
Hill in an ice-cream truck, reading the Patriot
Act
(ostensibly to lawmakers who never read it in the first place)
over the PA system, in the same film as a gripping sequence of a
nighttime raid of an Iraqi house, where no one seems to know exactly
what is going on and the soldiers are trying desperately to fulfill
their objective without anyone getting shot.

There are so many scenes that require no narration: the audio-only
montage of the events of September 11 followed by shots of people
reacting. They have just seen it happen. We in the theater are
remembering. A mother whose son has been killed in the line of duty in
Iraq reads his last letter to her — she grows more and more upset as
she reaches the end, where of course he tells her to keep writing, and
that he looks forward so much to returning home. Her husband looks
down as she speaks, but his arm around her shoulder grows tighter as
she speaks. A young Marine says in an even voice that he will not
return to Iraq if called again. I don’t want to kill poor people who
pose no threat to us, he says. He says it so straightforwardly, so
bereft of emotion. He has thought about this for a long time.

What complicates things is Moore’s argument, some of which I believe,
some of which I don’t. The most blatant misrepresentation, I feel, is
when Moore shows pre-war Iraq as a cheery, vibrant place as Bush
declares war on it. It’s pretty clear that living in Iraq during
Saddam Hussein’s reign was not a picnic, especially for the kind of
people who would like to criticize the head of their country.

But the movie also raises some questions I’d like to see answered. Why
did Colin Powell say a few months before September 11 that Iraq had no
chemical weapons capability, couldn’t even shoot regular old missiles
at its neighbors — and then, two years later, present a detailed
analysis to the UN of what to my untrained eye seemed to be pretty
sophisticated mobile chemical weapons facilities? Does it really only
take two years for a country that is being hounded by the
international community to pull together a full-fledged chemical
weapons program?

I don’t think there will be an answer, however. The movie closes on a
simple idea: that no statement made by the Bush administration can be
considered final, and thus will always be correct. We were always
Saddam’s enemy; he had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction; he
aided and abetted al Qaeda. As each of these points become harder to
defend, no one has admitted they were wrong.

It’s nothing new. Clinton did the same thing back when he was having
all those problems regarding Miss Lewinsky. But the thing is, there
can be no rational debate when no one is willing to admit they’re
wrong, when hairstylists and make-up artists are always at work on
the face the public sees. The only thing left is emotion.

I don’t know — maybe that’s all you can hope for.

Article © 2004 by Chris Klimas