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Bowling for Columbine

Michael Moore’s Documentary with a Bang

By Dan Robey

Bowling for Columbine

Written and Directed by Michael Moore

Starring Michael Moore, Charlton Heston, Marilyn Manson, Matt Stone

Rated R

Bowling for Columbine is not your parents’ documentary. Fusing flashy news reports, bizarre situations, ironic twists, tense interviews, and South Park-style animation, it is a documentary for the new generation. Director/star Michael Moore takes to the streets of America and Canada, examining the movie’s main question of why America is such a violent country, especially when guns are involved.

Bowling for Columbine looks for the answers which don’t always reveal themselves in Moore’s offbeat documentary style. He seems to wander from interview to interview; anywhere gun issues are, Moore is there. One of his first visits is a bank in Michigan that gives a rifle to anyone that opens up a new account. The exchange he has there with the account agent sets the tone of the movie as he asks sardonic questions, such as, “Do you think it’s a little dangerous handing out guns at a bank?”

In the first half of the movie, Moore poses several explanations for why America has such a high incidence of gun violence, and each time, he refutes the explanation with a conversation or visual counterexample. Is it because we have such a large number of guns? No, Canada has about the same number of guns we do, and they have less than a third of the gun-related homicides than we do. Is it our violent history? Moore points out all of Europe as a counterexample. What is it that drives us to homicide?

The main point of the movie is brought up by, of all people, Marilyn Manson. The media targeted his angry rock music in the wake of Columbine as a cause, but he claims that part of the reason behind America’s violent crime is the culture of fear in which we immerse ourselves. From the television show Cops to the nightly news, much of what we see and hear about are the violent crimes. Moore seems to agree, as he creates a collage of television news headlines that barrage viewers with visions of crime after crime, each one hammering in his point further.

In his quest for truth, Moore interviews Dick Clark, South Park creator Matt Stone, James Nichols (brother of Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols), Charlton Heston, and many non-celebrities involved in the shootings, to varying degrees of success. While Dick Clark completely snubs Moore, after he brings two Columbine victims to the Wal-Mart headquarters, complete with bullets purchased at Wal-Mart still lodged in their bodies, the superstore decides to withdraw ammunition from their line of products in an impromptu press conference with the TV reporters he brings with him.

In the final shootout of the movie, Moore goes to Hollywood to interview the National Rifle Association’s president, Charlton Heston. The former actor, recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, tries to fight back against Moore’s relentless questions about Heston’s views on guns, the recent school shootings, and the seemingly callous way Heston held NRA gun rallies in both Littleton and Grand Rapids within a week of the shootings there. Finally, Heston abruptly gets up and announces the interview is over.

Some of Moore’s conclusions are very tenuous, such as when he decides a welfare work program is responsible for a six-year-old shooting another six-year-old, but his intentions are admirable. He addresses these concerns, pointing out that if he was thinking like the media did when they blamed Manson for the Columbine shooting once his albums were found in the student’s collections, he might as well conclude that bowling was responsible for the shootings, because the two responsible students went to only bowling class before the massacre started.

Bowling for Columbine is filled with amazing images and conclusions. The scenes stay in memory long after watching it, reappearing in conversation, or while watching the nightly news. Moore has made a powerful film which captures a very real issue. The filmmaking is slick, and his interviews pointed. The humor, mostly ironic, helps lighten the film. The style of Bowling stays away from preaching enough to make the film enjoyable, conveying the message in Moore’s actions.

His methods may be questionable, but the issues Moore brings up aren’t. Americans are fascinated by guns, and leaving the reasons behind our fetish open forces us to rethink our own views. He doesn’t allow viewers to reject or adopt his views, because he doesn’t present a final thesis with which we can take issue. Instead, we must create our own answers. Bowling for Columbine is a controversial, well-put together film which raises issues on all sides, and it, unlike movies lately, makes viewers think.