Fahrenheit 11/9 (2018)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
Michael Moore’s dedicated fan base will be front and center for his latest film.
The poster and trailer make this seem like it’s all about President Trump, but Moore instead pivots to the Flint water crisis and creates a sequence in the film that is as astonishing and eye-opening as it is tragic and senseless.
Moore gets jabs in on Presidents Trump, Obama, and Clinton, surveys a wide range of recent topics, and ends at a place of trying to get people to care about their democracy and get involved.
If the name Michael Moore is equivalent to evil in your eyes, you were never watching this anyway.
Liberals overly sensitive about criticism (which is a lot of you) should be warned that Moore is casting a wide net when it comes to trying to understand how we got to this moment in our political history.
You gleefully believe that everything you hear going poorly in the world is a fabrication and overblown. You believe in the Deep State and America needs to be made great again. Sure, the economy is booming, but how is that water tasting in Flint, Michigan right about now?
Say what you will about Michael Moore, and believe me - no filmmaker has been more divisive in the last 30 years than he has been, but from a technical standpoint, he is a terrific storyteller. When focused, few can match his mix of wit, fact-finding, and skillful editing to drive home serious points of contention in starting and stoking fires within the political discourse of our country.
In 2004, Moore released the largest grossing documentary in movie history, Fahrenheit 9/11, which took the George W. Bush Administration to task for wars America started in Iraq and Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Not only did Moore garner his largest audience-to-date, he was just two years removed from winning an Oscar for his gun-control documentary Bowling for Columbine, where Moore pivoted from the affable, underdog corporate raider we saw in Roger & Me and The Big One, and become a visceral, vocal activist, demanding change.
Now, 14 years later, Moore is back with his eighth documentary, and 10th film overall, Fahrenheit 11/9, a sequel of sorts, which promises a deep dive into how Americans pushed back against the establishment, saw Hillary Clinton’s bid to become the first female president vanquished, and watched in slack-jawed horror and surprise when Donald Trump became President – a celebrity businessman with no governing experience whatsoever.
After recapping the events leading up to the 2016 election, his premise is articulated with one simple question…
“How the f*** did this happen?”
Though President Trump’s time in office has enhanced and added to what feels like an insurmountable, tribal divide in our political discourse, Moore gets his shots in on our 45th president. In a time and age when we are inundated with a 24-hour Trump news cycle on cable news, which the media gleefully celebrates in an early montage, the director still uncorks alarming and disquieting moments of Trumpian behavior, offering concrete examples of misogyny, racism, media manipulation, and questionable public interactions with daughter Ivanka.
Moore makes the case that Trump has figured out that, if he misbehaves in public, people seemingly do not care. That’s a sound premise, and as good a reason as any to try and understand how people of devout faith and those who espouse Republican/conservative principles can look the other way and not stand in defiance against his polarizing message of exclusion and elitism.
However, for those anticipating a movie where Moore just takes potshots at President Trump for two hours, you might be in for a surprise.
Circling back to his hometown of Flint, Michigan, Moore shifts his gaze towards the horrific water crisis that has all but ruined his community for generations to come. To go into all the details would make this review thousands of words long, but, in short…
Michigan governor Rick Snyder made the decision to enact “emergency managers” to oversee local governments, declared to be in financial or bureaucratic crisis. This led to mayors and city managers being removed from power and individuals, appointed by the Governor, taking over local jurisdictions.
In 2014, the Governor authorized one of these managers, overseeing Flint, to make the decision to switch Flint’s water supply from the pure, freshwater-providing Lake Huron to the polluted and toxic Flint River. The Governor, patting the backs of corporate contractors who helped get him elected, authorized the building of an unnecessary new pipeline. Flint residents, assured their water supply was safe, ingested water containing harmful chemicals and high levels of lead, which, almost immediately and within a week’s time, made everyone sick.
More than 100,000 residents and 10,000 children have since been exposed to lead poisoning and, as Flint pediatrician Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha shares, lead, once in your body, never goes away and lead toxicity can alter DNA for generations to follow.
The Flint portions of the film are the most incendiary, and Moore easily could have made Flint’s water crisis the subject of its own film. Comparisons are soon made with Snyder and President Trump, including references to both men seeking authoritarianism, claims which, as presented here, seem more truth than folly.
Moore also takes former President Barack Obama to task (leading to a man walking out during my screening, by the way) for staging what appears to be a disingenuous stunt in a visit to Flint in 2016.
Twice in his lone visit to the community during the crisis, he would ask for glasses of water, each time wetting his lips without drinking, and then assuring Flint residents that he will fix the problem. Images showing him glad-handing with the Governor, left residents feeling defeated, as they hoped help was on the way. Instead, their plight become a PR appearance and fodder for political grandstanding and literal lip service.
Trump would win Michigan, by the way, unexpectedly, by 10,704 votes in the 2016 election. Moore finds polling evidence that Hillary’s absence from the state and President Obama’s visit had a damaging effect on depressing voter turnout. The argument is sound: If people feel defeated and their vulnerabilities used as a prop, why would they ever care who won an election when no one seemingly cares about their despair in the first place.
Fahrenheit 11/9 also spends time looking at #MeToo, including a terrific teardown of male journalists who questioned Hillary Clinton’s stability and resilience to be president, only to lose their jobs when dozens of women outed them as sexual harassers and abusers. President Bill Clinton is called out for constantly compromising and signing laws counter-intuitive to the Democratic platform he ran on during his candidacy. Moore embeds with the Parkland students, watching them pick up the pieces from a horrible school shooting, while creating an international movement for change regarding gun law legislation.
We also get a glimpse of Bernie Sanders, references to Vladimir Putin, and a look at the wave of women running for political office for the first time, including the burgeoning star of the progressive left, New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, seeking election, at just 28-years-old, to Congress this coming November.
Rambling, at times unfocused, as messy as it is impassioned, Fahrenheit 11/9 makes the case that a depressed population, giving up on a country they feel could care less about them, gives rise to the demise of democracy.
And though he cannot help himself, at one point overdubbing a Trump speech on archival footage of Adolf Hitler, in the end, Moore wants to generate urgency and enthusiasm, seeking to re-engage people who feel the world no longer cares about them or has no interest in hearing their voices.
Ultimately, Fahrenheit 11/9 is a call to become active in your democracy. And honestly, who can fault him for making such a request?
CAST & CREW
Documentary Featuring: Michael Moore, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Mona Hanna-Attisha, Bernie Sanders, David Hogg, Ben Ferencz, Richard Ojeda.
Director: Michael Moore
Written by: Michael Moore
Release Date: September 21, 2018