“How the fuck did this happen?” Michael Moore asks in his latest documentary. It starts off with the hopes and dreams of the 2016 Presidential election – a moment has taken on a dreamlike quality. Everyone couldn’t imagine the possibility of a Donald Trump presidency – we had our projected polls, panelled experts and wall-to-wall coverage that seemed inevitable that Hilary Clinton would win. Then when the music from The Omen kicks in as the spawn of the Devil approaches his confirmation, we quickly took a trip through Satan’s alley and descended into a fiery pit of hell.
As a Brit, the US Presidential election result did not surprise me – Brexit did. If there was a dreading sense of ‘turning of the tides’, given the reaction that Brexit had, Trump becoming President was always on the cards. We could see it coming – sad but true.
Given the career that Moore has achieved, whatever the subject he has found ways to become ‘The Batman of the documentary’. He may not have the Batmobile or a fancy utility belt, but whenever there’s a social injustice, he’s there ready to highlight, document and fight back. Fahrenheit 11/9 is no different in the cause.
Moore analytically peels back those foundational layers on how Trump became President by creating a cohesive and multi-layered platform that strikes at the beating heart of American values. As it turns out, everyone has a share of the blame. This is a reality check and he crosses that ‘political divide’ to blame:
- Republicans who have abandoned morals in their thirst for power.
- Democrats (including Obama) and their compromising beliefs, allowing them to dip from the same financial pool as the Republicans.
- Corporate America.
- The media (who amplified Trump’s shenanigans and in return reaped the financial and rating benefits).
- The electoral college (Moore describing the voting process and the boxes that hold those votes as ‘baby coffins’).
- And the entire establishment.
Michael Moore even has the time to blame Gwen Stefani, but you will have to watch the documentary to find out that reason. Clue: It’s a definite ego move by Trump.
Leaving nothing untouched in his canvas of blame, he willingly accepts his accountability for the rise of Trump, starting from being on The Roseanne Barr show, taking it easy on Trump who was co-guest to the shocking discovery that Steve Bannon helped distributed his Sicko documentary. It would seem that Trump and his party (in some fashion or form) has unsuspectingly had an impact on everyone.
But remarkably, Trump is not the entire focus of the documentary. You would think so given how he dominates the trailers and even the film poster. Moore could have easily charted through Trump’s background and showed how he was always a walking contradiction. Moore knows that Trump relies on privilege and an elitist power that enables and normalises his actions. His personality hasn’t changed. With various examples presented by Moore, Trump has carried the same narcissistic, racist, creepy and entitled behaviour that was present since he announced himself in the limelight. Moore openly asks why didn’t we say something before?
It seems we didn’t pay enough attention, either refusing to acknowledge it or listen to those who did try to warn us. We became distracted, but yeah, the Trump story is very much out in the open.
Instead, Moore views the Trump problem as something prominent. Moore’s argument (which is always thorough and concise) switches tact to show how Trump’s agenda and manifesto have been magnified by smaller incidents. He takes the battle to Flint, Michigan aka ground zero.
The water disaster in Flint highlights everything from capitalist greed, lack of accountability, elected officials with no political backgrounds handed top jobs they are ill-equip to handle and the struggling livelihoods of ordinary people who through the combination of race, economics and poverty are delivered a life choice of paying high bills and looking after their family or protest. Once correlated, it desperately shows the inhumanity and a sickness that America refuses to acknowledge.
This is an America that has lost all signs of faith. The profound question that Moore prevalently debunks is whether we had a democracy in the first place when it’s not functioning truthfully, lawfully, respectfully, humanly or empathetically as it’s supposed to.
There’s no shortage of humour with Moore’s trademark wit. You know it’s a scary and a surreal time when a police dispatcher asks if protesters have weapons, only for the caller to respond “Michael Moore.” But nothing escapes Moore’s famous, hands-on bravado in ensuring his point is heard, going as far to make a ‘Citizen’s Arrest’ on Governor Rick Snyder and ends up spraying his home entrance with water from Flint. But when the jokes subside, Moore is back on point with the tough myriad of questions for societal issues that have gone on far too long.
Fahrenheit 11/9 reaches a tonal shift to illustrate how those tough questions are answered. It’s through the celebrated spirit of motivated men, women and teenagers hoping to be the next forefront of change. He celebrates the power of activism and the rise of grassroots movements to make significant inroads, transformed by marches like The Women’s March and the Parkland school shooting. This generation refuses to stay quiet and brings an inspirational belief to a documentary that has every ounce of bleakness within its soul.
Fahrenheit 11/9 is everything we’ve come to expect and acknowledge from a Michael Moore documentary. It’s a self-contained sequel from its predecessor, but every bit as relevant, engaging and emotional. Moore is angry and judging by the vital evidence presented we should be angry too. Recent events have dictated this latest drive back in the documentary saddle, but he has channelled that pain into making one of the most commanding and compelling documentaries he has done since Bowling for Columbine.
Is America beyond saving? Well, history is rewriting itself as we speak. But one thing is for sure – Moore just wants us all to wake the fuck up.
FAHRENHEIT 11/9 is screening as part of the BFI’s London Film Festival 2018. For screening details and ticket availability, please visit their website for more details.