Michael Moore has been an openly opinionated documentarian since his career began, but it was his films ‘Bowling for Columbine’ and ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ that first brought him to the public’s attention. How refreshing it was to have a filmmaker so honest with his views and so assertive in his approach. In 2018, it is his sequel to the latter that aims to tackle the great many problems America, and indeed society in general, faces today.
Moore’s style has always divided opinion, as is inevitable for someone so political, and ‘Fahrenheit 11/9’ will likely be no different. There aren’t many people not held up to account for the issues he discusses, in what is his most angry yet optimistic film to date.
The title, 11/9, represents the morning in 2016 in which people all over the world work up to the news that Donald Trump was President of the United States, and while the film’s marketing gives the clear impression that Moore will be tackling that very man, it’s pleasantly surprising to see that it actually goes far beyond that. Trump’s presidency is clearly the point-of-focus here, but the film is really about democracy itself, or indeed America’s lack of it.
Moore aims to prove that democracy isn’t something America is losing, but rather a false concept that the country never really had. As one interviewee says, how can it be a democracy if women or black people cannot vote? How can it be a democracy if the person with the most votes doesn’t win? Moore’s view is clearly that democracy isn’t something America ever lost, but instead something that they are still working towards in their future. The view isn’t that Trump is the problem, but that the system is the biggest issue of all, and the reasons for it stem far beyond America’s current president.
Of course, Trump is attacked, but Moore also tackles Hillary Clinton and even the country’s golden child, Barack Obama. No-one is left unaccountable, with corruption in both the Republican and Democratic parties being discussed. It’s refreshing to see this, particularly from Moore. This film is not an attack on Trump, but rather an attack on the system itself and a demand for genuine democracy. This is something that we in the UK can relate to. Our general election has similar issues to the system used in the States, so it’s hard not to empathise with the problems Moore is raising.
While the film’s approach may be surprising, it’s never unclear where Moore stands, and while his balance with dealing with Donald Trump is mostly well-handled, there is one time wherein he strays too far over the line towards the point of silliness. In one sequence, Moore dubs a speech made by Adolf Hitler with modern quotes from Trump, in a moment that feels far too simplified and almost foolish. This is the one time in the film that Moore makes this mistake, but it’s a memorable moment that stands out from the rest, and distracts the audience from the genuine points he is making at the time.
Also, as with all of Moore’s films, you have to remind yourself that the filmmaker has a very clear agenda and that perhaps not everything being said is based entirely on fact. Sure, the majority of points have been made as a result of genuine research and evidence, but there are occasions where Moore is basing his ideas on predictions, at one point even appearing to guess what Trump is thinking. These moments aren’t prominent, but it’s worth bearing in mind when you watch the film that perhaps sometimes we need to take what Moore says with a pinch of salt.
On the whole, however, this is a fantastic piece of documentary cinema made by a very skilled filmmaker who has become very comfortable and confident in his style and approach. Perhaps the nicest surprise of all is the level of optimism Moore shows in the film’s closing minutes, in which he appears genuinely confident in the future generations that things will soon begin to change. He believes that we have hit rock bottom, and society is angry, and ready to make a difference. After a film in which Moore appears to be angrier than perhaps ever before, it lifts the tone to walk away feeling that he hasn’t yet given up, and neither should we.
Wherever you stand on Moore’s approach, it cannot be denied that his documentaries have a level of entertainment value that you simply don’t find in many others, and this film is no different. It moves with purpose, it will make you laugh just as often as it will make you cry, and you’ll still leave the film feeling hopeful, and that maybe, just maybe, all is not lost.
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