The housemates and I watched Bowling for Columbine on Saturday, and it stirred something in me that I don’t think was quite what director Michael Moore intended the film to stir in people.
The film is put together in a very loose, fragmented, yet emotionally satisfying style. It’s a good documentary, but there is no consistent narrative arc and the few conclusions drawn by the end of the movie are almost completely ambiguous and unrelated to what the first half of the film seemed to be about. It does manage to make one good, if slightly nonsensical, point, however, and that is that blaming violence on any one thing is impossible (although Moore seems to believe that media-cultivated fear is more responsible for violence than anything else). The scary thing is that, when the credits rolled at the end of the film, I thought I agreed with everything Moore had said. Now that I’ve spent some time actually thinking about things, though, I’ve come to the sudden realization that I was completely duped.
Bowling for Columbine is a masterful work of manipulation, and most of it appears to be intentional. Many of the statements and statistics presented as fact in the film, while technically true, should have come with a few paragraphs of clarifying fine print. Some of the “facts” were outright lies. The parts of the film that weren’t half-truths or lies were carefully crafted to lead the viewer to false conclusions without actually stating false information. By the end of the film, Moore has you believing, among other things, that Canada is a pristine, violence-free wonderland; that Charlton Heston is a heartless, gun-crazed racist; that Dick Clark is responsible for the death of a six year-old girl; and that stores that sell bullets are responsible for how those bullets are used.
Moore’s own beliefs seem to vacillate so frequently within the course of the film itself that, on second viewing, it becomes easy to see where he’s obviously manipulating the people he’s interviewing. At the beginning of the film, Moore states quite clearly that he believes the second amendment gives Americans the right to own weapons, but that it doesn’t necessarily guarantee the right to own guns. At the end of the film, while craftily leading Charlton Heston down a slippery path toward embarrassment, Moore says that he agrees with Heston that the second amendment guarantees Americans the right to own guns. It’s obvious at this point that he’s saying this only to lure Heston into a false sense of security in preparation for the embarrassing scene that follows, but it’s what first made me wonder: if Moore will manipulate Charlton Heston by lying to him about his own beliefs, how will he manipulate his viewers?
The answer is pretty much any way possible.