DOCUMENTARIAN MICHAEL MOORE MAKES HIS STRONGEST CASE YET
By T.T. Stern-Enzi
Taking back the country and making America great again have been slogans and talking points throughout the Obama Presidency. There’s this deeply ingrained sense that the first black president has somehow steered the country off course, down a dangerous pathway that is completely antithetical to our very nature, and it is time for someone to step forward to right the ship.
Yet, the people clamoring for a return to American values and ideals would probably not be all that interested in Michael Moore’s ideas about how to conduct this offensive. The genius of Moore, though, rests in the notion that he really doesn’t give a sh-t what those people think. In “Where to Invade Next,” his first film in six years (“Capitalism: A Love Story”), he unabashedly embraces a rather old warrior trope—conquering and pillaging from vanquished foes—as the means of cobbling together elements from around the world that he believes would actually make our nation more than better. Moore wants the United States to truly live up to a set of ideals that Founding Fathers would be proud of in this modern and more enlightened age.
There is a delicious and quite subtle—at least for Moore—dig at the country right from the start. Moore wants us to own up to our image in the world as a nation spearheading conflict. When it comes to fighting, we’re not leading from behind. In most cases, we are the face, the bodies, the advisors and the funders of the call to arms, and if that’s true, why not go in, win the wars and enjoy the spoils of victory?
Moore’s crusade takes him away from the hot conflict zones though. Instead he decides to prey upon the civilized First World nations that probably wouldn’t put up much of a fight, and that offer the promise of real resources and assets worth stealing. Since we’re talking about Michael Moore, it should be noted that he’s interested in ideas and policies, moreso than tangible goods. He’s also really keen on human interaction.
At his best and worst, Moore embodies the crazy windmill tilting of Don Quixote and the irritating desire to poke the authoritative bears of society. He has a stubborn streak and a narrow-mindedness that can sometimes turn him into a dog that simply cannot let go of a favorite bone or old shoe, even after all of the meat and gristle has been chewed away.
“Where to Invade Next” has a surprisingly more engaging vibe about it because it allows Moore to expand his field of vision, opening the discourse up to several topics worthy of consideration—from prison reform, debt-free college education, vacation benefits, school lunch programs and women’s rights—to develop an all-encompassing agenda or ideological platform with broader appeal. Strip away the humor of the conceit, and you get the sense that Moore sees himself as a shrewd politician who operates from a progressive framework, yet has found a way and means of presenting the universal nature of the message. He’s figured out that the best evidence for his position points comes from people who enjoy the benefits he’s trumpeting, so he largely lets regular people speak from themselves.
That means bantering with tables of schoolchildren in France about the gourmet meals they enjoy at school (with actual cheese plates and several courses of healthy, carefully prepared meals), while showing them the less than savory options American kids receive. Or chatting up Italian employees who take long lunches and get over a month in paid vacation time as opposed to the Draconian restrictions we operate under here in the US.
There is a loose and somewhat haphazard approach to Moore’s journey, but he’s less concerned about any single stop along the way. His eyes are on the big picture prize, his pursuit of the American Dream, which he now sees is “alive everywhere except in America.” This being Michael Moore though, he’s not sad when he utters that line in the film. He doesn’t have time for resignation. What he focuses on is the opportunity that presents itself.
Somewhere along the way, one of the people he interviews says, “We open our hearts. We open our society.” “Where to Invade Next” challenges us to take all of these examples Moore has collected, all of these flags he’s planted in our name, and weave them into the frayed fabric of ideals the United States, to insulate us from the cold and harsh conditions that sap our spirit and vitality.