Got some rabble to rouse? Take ’em to see the new Michael Moore documentary, Fahrenheit 11/9. No matter what side of the political “aisle” you’re on, you’ll come away in a fighting mood.
It’s sort of a companion piece to Moore’s 2004 doc Fahrenheit 9/11, in which the filmmaker excoriated George W. Bush and the horse he rode in on in the wake of the Twin Towers attack, which became an excuse to systematically erode civil rights at home (in the name of “security”), and launch still-unresolved wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This time, Moore’s principal target is you-know-who, the current occupant of the White House. But he has plenty of outrage to spare for other issues, like the contamination of the water supply in Moore’s hometown of Flint, Michigan, thanks to the venal actions of Governor Rick Snyder. Or the ongoing crisis of gun violence in America, and the politicized response of a band of teenage survivors of the Parkland shootings, who organize a global protest march to school their ineffectual elders.
The movie begins exactly as Fahrenheit 9/11 did, except this time, it’s Election Night 2016, not 2000. “Was it all just a dream?” narrator Moore muses once again. The champagne corks are already popping at the massive Hillary Clinton victory party as the early returns come in. (“Fox News seemed relieved,” notes Moore, that her combative opponent would not be the conservative standard-bearer.) But as the night wears on, the impossible truth begins to surface.
As the tragic aria from Il Pagliacci engulfs the soundtrack, the victor, with his family and handlers, takes the stage to address his supporters. “It looked like a perp walk,” notes Moore. By the next morning—11/9/16—the nation was waking to the grim reality of President-Elect Donald Trump.
“How the fuck did we get here?” wonders Moore. He suggests some culprits: the media that cemented his celebrity status with endless Donald the Clown bytes instead of stories with actual news value, and the billionaires who financed him to push through their own corporate agenda. (Moore notes how many promises Trump has already kept—not to the American people, but to his rich donors, by appointing conservative circuit judges, abolishing regulations, and lowering taxes on the top 1 percent.)
Moore moves on to the scurrilous case of Snyder, who stopped piping in Flint’s drinking water from pristine Lake Huron and hooked up to the sludgy Flint River instead, causing outbreaks of lead poisoning and Legionnaires Disease throughout the community. “No terrorist organization has ever figured out how to poison a city’s water supply,” says Moore. “That took the GOP of Flint.” (As soon as he found out the river water was corroding car parts at the GM plant, Snyder switched the plant—but not the town—back to the Huron.)
As usual, Moore is preaching to the choir, and stunts like aiming a fire hose of Flint water over the gate into the courtyard of Snyder’s governor’s mansion aren’t likely to win him any new converts. Moore comparing Trump to the rise of Adolf Hitler is chillingly appropriate, but certain to inflame Moore’s detractors. (Although the rest of us should pay close attention.)
But Moore’s relentless drive to expose bad guys and connect the dots between past transgressions and current crises is as revitalizing as ever, especially in this era of lockstepping conformity among the political establishment of both parties. Even President Obama draws Moore’s ire, dashing the hopes of the people of Flint for justice by creating a photo op, sipping at a glass of tap water during his official visit to the embattled town.
Overall, this is a scorching portrait of a nation on the brink of utter chaos (okay, we’re already about waist-deep) that challenges even Moore’s patented brand of raging absurdist humor. That Moore manages to identify thin rays of hope—those intrepid Parkland teens, or political newcomers like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, ready to fight the Powers That Be at their own game—is sort of miraculous.
(***1/2 (out of four)
A film by Michael Moore. A Briarcliff Entertainment release. Rated R. 128 minutes.