Politics has never been more divisive than it is right now, with ideology creeping its way into just about everything we used to see as a diversion from reality. What separates Michael Moore from other documentary filmmakers is that he’s always looking for a new way to make political discourse entertaining as well as enlightening. Are his antics occasionally crass, bloated, and self-serving? You bet, but they are also effective as learning tools, calls to arms, and as pure enjoyment.
Fahrenheit 11/9 is perhaps the most serious doc he’s made in years, and the reason why can be boiled down to two words: Donald. Trump. An obvious play on his seminal anti-Bush film that hit like a grenade in 2004, Moore again hopes to trouble the waters ahead of the midterm elections, seen by liberals as the last chance to put a check on Trump’s corrupt administration. But Moore sees it as more than that. He’s not joking around when the narration, done by him in grim undertones, claims Trump will be our final President of the United States. The point of Fahrenheit 11/9 is clear: to wake up those liberals who sat on the sidelines during the 2016 election, thinking Hillary Clinton was a shoe-in to win. To the 100M+ non-voters in the prior election, this film is for you, too, and Moore, who saw his previous doc Michael Moore in Trumpland go over like a fart in an elevator, isn’t in the mood to go easy on anybody. The consequences of doing nothing are too great.
And Moore kicks you right in the gut with those consequences. For those who were left shell-shocked on the night of November 8th 2016, the opening minutes of Fahrenheit 11/9 will be torturous. Throngs of enthusiastic women, some who had lived for decades never thinking they would see a woman President. Well, they still might not live to see it. No amount of Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song” can change the painful reality of Trump’s victory. Moore’s opening salvo is on Democratic complacency and compromise more than the big orange goon in the White House, although he does get in some good shots at his campaign/get rich quick scheme. Our screening was heavily backed by Our Revolution, the group that spun out of the Bernie Sanders 2016 campaign. It’s easy to see why, as Moore grills the Democratic establishment at every opportunity. He hits frequent targets Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, and Chuck Schumer for stifling the democratic process within the Party, and holding back more progressive newcomers who threaten to overturn the system.
What will be surprising to some is how little of the film is actually about Trump, and to be fair it’s better the further Moore gets away from easy potshots at him. Moore’s movies are never about a single issue; he uses a topic as the hook to draw connections with bigger concerns. When Moore is detailing the Flint water crisis and the despotic rule of its governor, Rick Snyder, he’s making a larger point about the erosion of all of our civil liberties. If you aren’t infuriated seeing a state government systematically poison its people, all in the name of corporate profits, then nothing will ever spur you to action. Moore strikes gold again in a later segment featuring the activist students of Stoneman-Douglas High School. When Moore reaches out to the people who are trying to affect real change in this country, largely without any coverage by the complicit corporate media, he is right in his wheelhouse.
Less effective are the silly stunts Moore uses as bait in his promos. Attempting a citizen’s arrest on Governor Rick Snyder might look good in trailers but what did it actually accomplish and whose mind did it change? While I laughed my butt off as Moore creeped out the audience with Trump’s incestuous infatuation with daughter Ivanka, the rest of the crowd around me simply groaned in disgust, turned off by the whole thing. There were audible gasps during a scene where Moore uses Hitler imagery and Trump’s own voice to make the easy, and inflammatory, comparison of the two leaders. I get his point that, and he makes it well earlier on, that Hitler didn’t start out the way he ended. Nobody saw the horrors he would eventually commit. What Moore hasn’t learned in all of these years is that shock isn’t lasting, it’s fleeting. It drives nobody to do anything. The stuff with Flint, where we see the actual impact of corrupt governance on the people? That’s what sticks. That’s what gets people out into the streets. That’s what drives people to the polls.
Fahrenheit 11/9 is easily the most impactful film by Moore since Sicko helped drive the healthcare debate, and should light a fire under liberals to get out and vote this November. If that’s the only thing it’s ultimately remembered for then Moore can consider it a tremendous success. It would be the best gift Moore could give to the country that he clearly loves and fears won’t survive the way things are going now.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5