I’ve just seen Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11.
I’m going to try to get a few of my thoughts down about this film while I’m still feeling nauseous and tearful. Tears or nausea, nausea or tears?
It’s hard to know where to start – with the woman in the lobby who blindly reached for me after the film, embracing a total stranger – a middle aged, middle class woman with tears running down her face – a woman who grappled me as though I were the remaining vine that prevented her from falling off the mountain? "What have we become?" she asked me in a broken voice as her tears moistened my left shoulder.
Or perhaps with the sudden anguished moan of my intellectual husband, a man not known for displays of emotion, upon hearing the words "can they ever trust us again"? That is, after being promised not to be put in harm’s way unless it were absolutely necessary, how can those who have always been first to stand up and serve (the american poor) ever trust in their country again?
The film has faults, to be sure. It uses a bit too much caricature, which is sometimes distracting. Although I agree that our president is developmentally stunted and anything but a compassionate conservative, a less cartoonish display would have been more persuasive. What one sees in Bush finally is what one sees in the eyes of any irresponsible and narcissistic alcoholic – the dry drunk. There’s a book in that and I hope to read it one day. I also found one section of the film truly offensive. While I understood that the listing of the so-called "coalition of the willing" (outside of the US and the UK) was meant to highlight the absurdity of including nations without a military, I certainly didn’t appreciate seeing ancient film footage of nosferatu to represent Romania, a viking to represent Iceland, someone smoking a marijuana pipe to represent The Netherlands, poppies for Afghanistan (Afghanistan?!?!), and so on. Along with the superimposition of western imagery upon the current administration (which admittedly does seem driven by the tropes of westerns and thrillers), it was both off-putting and ineffective.
What sticks with me, though, are other images. I’m more of an idea person, but images from this film already haunt me. The face of the policeman who "infiltrated" the Fresno Peace group, the pro-military woman who lost her son aimlessly wandering around the white house lawn, the guy who talked about the war at the gym and was reported to the FBI, the sobs of an Iraqi woman calling out to God to avenge the houses of her innocent family, the young man digging out a piece of his neighbor’s body from the rubble, the soldiers playing their killing soundtrack, other soldiers remorseful and confused by their experiences, the brave guy who said he would never go back to Iraq "to kill the poor" no matter what the consequences – so many images, images we didn’t see, images we should be seeing. Say what you will about Michael Moore – but what comes through for me is his anger for the sake of others, and his feeling for people. He turns a mirror on America, to show us with what we have become complicit and why the nations of the world have turned away. It is a profoundly patriotic film. Its message is, in one way, very simple. For those of you on the "religious" right, you should understand: It’s all about the money, a lot more than the customary 30 pieces of silver.
However, I also learned something that I did not know and honestly had not wanted to know. Moore, after all, does not spare either the left wing or the media from his critique. All those disenfranchized voters of the last presidental "election" couldn’t get one senator to sign a petition so that their argument could be heard. Person after person stood up in the proceedings painfully led by Al Gore himself. Time and time again, they had to say they had many signatures, but the required senatorial signature was "missing." One woman said she didn’t care that she didn’t have a signature, and Gore reminded her that "the rules do care." It reminded me of what I had forgotten somehow – how very angry I was at the Democrats. Where was John Kerry for those people, or any other democratic senator for that matter? Why couldn’t they get one signature? It brought back for me the day I watched the news in disbelief as Daschle did his 180-degree turn (not long after a certain airplane crash) on his Iraq anti-war stance. Really, where IS the left in this country? I miss those old academic Marxists of the Vietnam-war era, the theorists who remembered to ask the primary questions of money and power. This isn’t really a movie about serious dissent – it’s a mainstream american film in a country that has become deeply suspicious of intelligence and education, its traditional anti-intellectualism racheted up a notch or two. For those who might not have looked at some of this information, or who are patriotic but somewhat uninformed, this movie gives a big shove in the direction of actual thinking.
All of the family ties, the network connections, the money trails – Moore points out some of the major ones – enough at least to intimate that something of major importance about Saudi Arabia is still being withheld from the American people, for example. The section dealing all the connections and disconnections between the Bin Laden family, the Taliban of Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, The Carlyle Group, Enron, Arbusto Oil, Halliburton, and the Bush family – was probably a little confusing to some. If so, read any of the books on the shelves these days, from Michael Moore and others. Molly Ivins’ essays from the time of W’s Texas days are particularly enlightening with regard to such things as the Taliban. To me, it’s all about networks of power and money these days. It seems pretty clear that we mirror the terrorism network with our own nation-based criminal networks.
I don’t think Moore really got across the importance of the pipeline, or put enough into the effects of the Patriot Acts, but he did manage to convey some of what is happening to this country under this administration. Left-wingers of all types, libertarians, and republicans should see this film – the neo-cons are a different order entirely and I feel that much of America just simply doesn’t understand what is being taken from them, and what is happening in their name and to their own.
As our husbands returned from the restroom, the woman who had embraced me took a step back, embarrassed. Moving slowly, the four of us walked out into the blazing heat of the Georgia day. When you have a child and no babysitter, you don’t get to go to movies at night very often. I had to stand for a moment to breath deep against my heaving stomach. The parking lot shimmered in the sun, and for a moment, I felt profoundly alienated from everyone and everything. Then the tears came for me.