I remember once having a discussion about America in a class, and I begun to talk about the fear and paranoia that runs through most Americans. Someone then asked me, "Have you seen "Bowling for Columbine"?" It became clear to me then that anyone who asks that sort of question needs to see this film. For if it comes as such a shock that fear practically runs the United States of America, then it is necessary for a film this manipulative and forceful to be seen by as many as possible.
In "Bowling for Columbine", Michael Moore asks the almost unanswerable question of why the USA has so many more gun murders than any other country (almost ten times that of countries in the rest of the world). He interviews everyone from Matt Stone to Charlton Heston to Marilyn Manson and back again, infuriating many and being pleased with little.
It is remarkable that Moore goes through this with the good humor that he does. Too many of these types of things are pure anger, nothing more, and that is not always a big draw for those interested in watching. Here, Moore infuriates not by foaming at the mouth, but by poking fun. Most of the time, he lets the interviews speak for themselves. Take for example when Moore interviews John Nichols, who many suspect to be a supposed accomplice to the Oklahoma City bombing. This is a man who sleeps with a loaded gun under his pillow, but thinks that there should be some restrictions on what kinds of arms the public should be allowed to bear because "there's a lot of whackos out there." Indeed.
But this is also a quite moving work at times. To watch the footage from Columbine on the day of the infamous shootings goes beyond simply chilling. And Moore's interviews with friends and relatives of victims of gun violence are very hard to watch at times, but Moore is respectful, and doesn't require anything from his interviewees.
I do have some issues, however, with the way Moore goes about getting all of this information and getting to all of the conclusions that he does. First of all, this is hardly an objective opinion. There is much yellow journalism at work here, and it is evident simply from the way Moore talks to some people. See how he takes the word of such people such as Matt Stone and Marilyn Manson (who have some good stuff to say) as final, but he barely gives any right-wingers a chance to speak. If he would interview them in the same vein as some of his more favored subjects, they will speak for themselves, and the point Moore is trying to make will still be made.
But is Moore really trying to make a good point, or is he just trying to tick people off? Notice that once Manson says that America is run by fear, Moore sticks with that for the rest of the film. But does it really take a genius to say that America runs by fear? You can see that all the time in your everyday life; people giving second glances at people on the subway because they think anybody could be a mugger, letting any privacy being taken away for the war on terrorism, etc. Similar fear runs through many other countries in the world, so that cannot be the reason why America is the one with the single highest gun murder rate.
So maybe he is only trying to get people aggravated. For example, can you really link Dick Clark to a murder just because his name is attached to a restaurant chain that the perpetrator's mother worked at? And how can you approach him, no matter what the question, when he is in the car just about to leave for somewhere? I am sure that by now, someone like Dick Clark would've trained themselves to ward off press of any kind; does Moore have the right to look so peeved when Clark drives off?
If you watch closely, "Bowling for Columbine" will tell you much more about Michael Moore himself than it will tell you about the USA's obsession with guns. It shows that deep down under, he is really just a kid begging for attention; and when he cannot anger people any further, he doesn't quite know what to do (look at his almost bewildered face when he wins out in the battle with K-Mart in the film). So maybe he is not the ideal person to tackle such complicated subject matter.
However, I will give the film this: this is a somewhat unique approach to such a thing, trying to provoke through ridicule instead of pure rage. And if nothing else happens, this film may inspire people to look up the facts for themselves and get involved with the issues at hand. If that is this film's fate, then it will all be worth it.