Bowling for Columbine (2002) / Documentary
MPAA Rated: R for some violent images and language
Running Time: 120 min.
Cast: Michael Moore, Charlton Heston, Marilyn Manson, Matt Stone
Director: Michael Moore
Screenplay: Michael Moore
Review published November 18, 2002
He made a splash debut with 1989's terrific documentary ROGER & ME, but for the last thirteen years Michael Moore has done mostly side projects and guest appearances in other films. Now he's back with another challenging documentary, but this time it's a little less personal an endeavor as he has undertaken the gun and violence issue, particularly among children. While the media have all concentrated on the events of the aftermath to the Columbine killings and the Oklahoma City bombing, Michael Moore takes the opposite direction, looking more towards the roots of the people involved and the environment which surrounded them, from the prevalent attitudes towards guns in their respective towns, to the music they listen to, to the types of things shown to them on television. It may have been thirteen years, but BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE is well worth the wait.
The title is derived from the fact that the two boys who murdered and maimed their fellow classmates in Columbine reportedly went to their bowling class before committing the heinous acts. In Moore's typical tongue-in-cheek fashion, he tries to leave no stone unturned in his quest for the truth, including the contemplation that bowling could be the cause of the rage. A ludicrous notion of course, but no more ludicrous, according to Moore, than the media and right-wing activists' quick rush to judgment and condemnation that it was the music they may have listened to that was the root cause, which included shock-rock artist Marilyn Manson, who also has a brief appearance in the film to give his point of view (quite eloquently, I might add.) Although the media may have already closed the book on Columbine now that there are no more "sexy" facts to hype, Moore is still left unsatisfied that the true answers were never uncovered, and along with other well-publicized seemingly senseless acts of violence, he tries to weave an intricate pattern and chain of events that lead him to discover that perhaps there is something very wrong going on in this country that hasn't been addressed.
From the get-go, Moore determines that the roots of gun violence comes not from the usual suspects of our violent history, music or video games, but from a combination of three things: a sensationalistic media that bombards us with constant images to induce fear, our government feeding us the notion that violence and war are the only solutions to any dispute, and the proliferation and easy access to guns and other information to create bombs with the intent to kill one's fellow man. Moore eloquently states that "a public out of control with fear should not have guns and ammo laying around," and makes his case by comparing the American society to others around the world which have the same access to music and video games, while also allowing fire-arms, yet have only a small fraction of gun-related deaths. It is fear which perpetuates the violence, Moore stipulates, sensationalizing carnage and death for ratings points, and all the while our country is at war trying to prove our strength not with words, but by bombing the crap out of those who refuse to comply with our will.
I can't claim to agree 100% with everything Moore has to say in BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE, but he delivers such a compelling case that it's hard not to think he isn't onto something very real. Call Moore a propagandist or a comedian with a liberal bent, but there's no denying that there is a true thinking and caring man behind every frame of film, and most impressive is his ability to blend actual interviews filled with fantastic irony in between heart-wrenching displays of grief and despair. Moore knows how to make an argument and do so without ever being blatant or preachy, and part of the joy comes from getting the subtle irony involved in his question and answer sessions with people who obviously have no clue.
BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE easily ranks as one of the best films of the year, and most of the film builds itself up to being on the verge of delivering a powerful statement indicting the government, the NRA, the media and the right-wing for much of the ills we have been suffering through for the last decade. Yet, in typical Moore fashion, the result is a little more subdued than the expected knockout punch, ending the film with an interview with Charlton Heston which shows how out of touch "Moses" is with the entirety of the problems behind gun violence and his lack of sympathy for the victims. Although not going for the jugular, it's still quite effective, since we will now question anything that comes from Heston's mouth or any other NRA proponent, we will wonder why we must go to war on anything and everything we deem a threat to our national interest, and we certainly will never look at the evening news the same way again.
BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE is a brilliant work from a brilliant man, and is recommended for everyone of intelligence, even the staunchest of gun-control opponents. This isn't a liberal film made for other liberals to rally a cause, but on the contrary, it's made to change the opinions of those who never really gave much thought to the situation, and in that vein, it is an effective piece of intellectual persuasion. Hopefully, it won't be another 13 years before we see another.
©2002 Vince Leo