Any documentary about gun violence in America in which the single most intelligent and insightful comment is made by a guy named after a dead beauty queen and a serial killer is worth a look. Then there is the bank that gives out free rifles to customers who open up new accounts, a guy who sleeps with a gun under his pillow, and of course Charlton Heston standing up at a meeting of the NRA just after the shootings at Columbine and yelling “From my COLD DEAD HANDS!”
So shock-rock star Marilyn Manson sounds positively statesmanlike when film-maker Michael Moore asks him what he thinks of the two boys who listened to his music before they took guns into their high school and killed 13 people and injured 21 more before turning the guns on themselves. Mason, wearing his garish stage makeup but speaking quietly, compares the endless media coverage of the Columbine shooting to the way the media all but ignored the record-breaking U.S. bombing in Kosovo that same day, the most extensive bombing expedition in world history. And then, when Moore asks what he would say to the boys in Columbine, Manson says simply, “I wouldn’t tell them anything, I would listen to what they had to say– which is what no one did.”
Moore is deeply concerned and the ultimate bleeding heart liberal, but he is not an ideologue. He learned to shoot in high school and is a life member of the NRA. When the bank gives him a rifle, he casually checks the action while he asks if anyone ever considered that maybe guns and banks were not the best possible combination. Much of the time he lets the story tell itself, as when he interviews the brother of Timothy McVeigh’s co-conspirator, Terry Nichols. John Nichols, who sleeps with a gun under his pillow, says that he believes that anyone should have access to guns or even bombs. Then Moore asks whether he thinks that anyone should have access to nuclear weapons, and McVeigh looks at him like he is crazy and says, “No! There are some real crazies out there!” Sometimes, Moore becomes the story, as when he brings two young survivors of the Columbine shooting to K-Mart’s national headquarters to protest their selling of ammunition, including the bullets still in the bodies of the two young men. After a day of deliberation, a K-Mart spokeswoman reads a statement
This is more mosaic than polemic and mordantly funny, though it does veer a bit over the top when Moore tries to link television producer Dick Clark to the murder of a six-year-old by a six-year-old, because the boy who killed his classmate had a mother who worked at one of Clark’s restaurants in a welfare-to-work program. And his relentless questioning of a clearly memory-impaired Charlton Heston, leaving a photo of the murdered girl in Heston’s home after Heston stalks out of the interview, has the unintended result of making Heston seem more sympathetic.
But the movie confronts complex questions fearlessly, even as it acknowledges that it does not have the answers. Why do our fellow North Americans in Canada, who have proportionately the same number of guns, shoot each other only one-tenth as often? Why are Americans fearful even out of proportion to the amount of violence we subject ourselves to? The movie’s violation of strict “documentary” standards by shifting some scenes around has been criticized. For one example, see this website. Moore’s response to some of the questions about the movie is here.
Parents should know that the movie’s subject is violence and it includes explicit real-life footage of the shootings at Columbine. It also includes very strong language and brief references to drinking, smoking, and sex.
Families who see this movie should talk about the questions Moore raises. Why do Americans shoot each other so much more often than any other country? Why don’t Canadians lock their front doors? Why was Moore successful in persuading K-Mart not to sell ammunition any more? What can you do to try to reduce violence or to change other things that matter to you?
Families who enjoy this movie should see Moore’s first film, “Roger and Me,” about General Motors and Moore’s home town of Flint, Michigan.