Sunday, June 27, 2004

Fahrenheit 9/11

Though I've always been interested in politics on some level, I believe the event that really galvanized my passion for the subject was the debacle of the 2000 Presidential election. I remember watching in stunned horror through November and December as the very electoral process was destroyed, the body cut open and displayed on national television. I'm sure you remember it just as well as I do: the confusing (intentionally so, some think) "butterfly ballots" that resulted in thousands accidentally voting for Pat Buchanan rather than Al Gore. The people hired to recount the votes in Florida prevented from doing so, for no adequately explained reason. Katherine Harris, the woman in charge of both the election and Bush's campaign, repeatedly blocking recounts. And the final stroke, the Supreme Court decision that took the vote away from the people and coronated George W. Bush the 43rd President. None of it made sense to me -- how could someone argue against counting every vote? What logical human being could rationally say anything other than "count all the votes"? I didn't get it. I still don't get it. And later, as evidence began to surface of Republican tampering with the electoral system in Florida (thousands of black voters "accidentally" wiped off the voter rolls days before the election, to name just one instance), it became clear that the vote in Florida was, at best, suspect, if not downright rigged. If Bush and his supporters in the Republican party were willing to lie and cheat their way into office, why would they stop once they got there?

As Michael Moore's brilliant Fahrenheit 9/11 states loudly and with authority: they didn't. And they used the most horrific tragedy in the history of our nation to enhance their positions. And they did it for nothing more than money.

I think I know why Sean Hannity doesn't like it.

Unlike the good-but-unfocused Bowling for Columbine, this film is basically split into two parts. The first concerns the 9/11 attack, and both Bush's failure to prevent it and his inability to capture those responsible. The CIA and FBI sent report after report concerning possible terrorist strikes on US soil, but it's hard to read all those reports when you spend 42% of your first eight months in office on vacation playing with your dogs (or, as Moore says, "Maybe he was just confused by the vague title of the report: bin Laden intent on attacking US.") And after the attacks, getting the bin Laden family out of the country on chartered planes (while the rest of the country was completely grounded) seemed far more important to Bush than actually capturing the perpertrators. Even Joe Friday (as we see in clips from Dragnet) knows, when a murder's committed, you talk to the suspect's family, not high-tail them out of the country -- even if that family has "cut all ties" with Osama, which a witness for Moore hints they haven't, it still seems pretty simplistic. So why let them leave? Why, in fact, move them out of the country yourself without so much as a "Seen 'em lately?" There's no good answer, but the bad one seems to point to the monetary influence the Saudi Arabians have on the US economy in general and the Bush family in particular. Perhaps it doesn't seem likely, this conspiracy with the Saudis, but it doesn't help when Moore's attempt to film some interview footage in front of the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington is interrupted by nervous Secret Service agents...who, of course, guard none of the other foreign embassies.

It's no secret that defense contractors have made millions from 9/11 and the subsequent war in Iraq. And it's no secret that John Ashcroft (shown to me to be, finally and truly, certifiably insane by a short shot in this film) and others in the administration saw the post-9/11 environment as a chance to make some the changes they'd wanted since taking office, like the repugnant USA PATRIOT Act. (Why would intelligent, thinking congressmen and women pass the Patriot Act, Moore asks? The answer: they didn't read it.) None of what Moore comes with is really new information, at least to me. And his attempt to paint a conspiracy is not perfect -- one can poke holes in each individual piece of evidence, and nothing can be considering irrefutably damning. But as more and more evidence stacks up, doesn't there come a point where the sheer volume of facts speaks for itself?

Actually, Moore does find one piece of irrefutably damning evidence, speaking to Bush's incompetence and inability to properly lead the country after 9/11: the video footage, undeniably accurate, of Bush's reaction to news of the attacks -- he does nothing. While the President reads to schoolchildren in Florida, an aid enters the room and informs Bush that the United States is under attack. Bush responds by...sitting there. For seven minutes, while thousands were dying in New York, the leader of the nation, with no one there to tell him what to do or what to say or how to act, sat stock-still. For seven minutes. Until another aid finally entered the room and nervously suggested he should leave. That's pretty damning, I'd say. And the fact that this footage has never been seen before (at least by me, and I'd bet the overwhelming majority of the country) speaks to the falsehood of the "liberal media" that Hannity and his ilk blare about constantly. If Fahrenheit is Michael Moore's attempt to destory the Bush Presidency, this one piece of footage might be the most devastating shot, if only because there's no possible conservative response -- nothing can gloss over the look of sheer, confused terror that fills the frame here. With the enormous (for a documentary) box office the film has pulled in its first week, it's possible that this one shot may swing the election.

So with Moore having torn apart the "ficticious" President's 9/11 behavior in the first half, the second turns to his "ficticious" war in Iraq, and the bogus search for weapons of mass destruction. Interview clips of Rumsfeld and others speaking on the incredible accuracy of their "Shock and Awe" bombing raids are countered with horrifying footage of the cities of Iraq decimated and destroyed, the civilians who live there weeping over their ruined lives. One fragment is especially devastating, as an Iraqi woman screams into a news camera about the evil of the American people for killing her uncle in the bombings. "Where are you, God?!" she screams. "God avenge us! God avenge us!" Maybe not the majority opinion in Iraq, but it's certainly different than the "Welcoming us with flowers and smiles" reaction Rumsfeld told us to expect.

Some footage of the soldiers doesn't make us feel better. Many of them lament their jobs, openly questioning just what the hell they're doing there in the first place, especially after Bush's ridiculous "Mission Accomplished" speech that "ended" the war over a year ago. But some of the soldiers have no problem being at war for no reason -- it's a "rush," as they listen to loud music to pump them up as they rush into battle. After an encounter with Iraqis, we get some heartwarming camcorder footage with some soldiers posing for photographs with a captured Iraqi and then joking about a dead Iraqi's erection. The message: reprehensible behavior in the leaders of the military leads to reprehensible behavior by the soldiers.

But the focus of the second half of the film takes Moore back to his hometown of Flint, as he often does in his films. He meets a local woman from a military family with two children in the Marines. But when her son is killed in a helicopter crash, she questions why her son needed to go to Iraq in the first place. The most painful moment of the film comes in her trip to Washington to visit the White House -- outside, she meets an Iraqi mother who also lost her son during the war, and now sits with posters and signs protesting the war. Her attempt to communicate with the protestor becomes even more difficult to watch when some obnoxious woman comes from nowhere and inserts herself into the situation, insisting that it's "all staged," and that "If your son's really dead, you should blame al-Qaeda." It's difficult for me to believe that something as personal as this woman's loss would be used by Michael Moore for his own gain, and the very fact that the whole incident is still in the film, complete with unwanted intrusion, leads me to believe in the event's accuracy. And it's almost unbearably painful to watch.

While Bowling relied heavily on humor, this is a far more somber affair. That doesn't mean there aren't laughs to be had, like the hilarious montage on the Coalition of the Willing ("Morocco...Iceland...Afghanistan...Wait: Afghanistan? Well, they have a military: OUR military!"). Does it help that I'm already as anti-Bush as a human could be without picking a rifle? Sure. But Fahrenheit 9/11 isn't aimed for people like me. It's a message those undecided voters, and even those who side with Bush. It's a message that says, "This is who our leader and those around are. This is what they're capable of. And unless you stop them in November, they'll do it for another four years."

Nothing scares me more.

Rating: *****

Author's note: Though I talk with my friends about virtually every movie before I review it, this review happened largely because of the intriguing conversation I had concerning Bush with Brandon Funderburg and Rene Alvarado. Their viewpoints were interesting, if often opposed to my own. Thank you. Oh, and Robert was there, too. Yeah.

No comments:

Post a Comment