Where to Invade Next. (2015) / Documentary
MPAA Rated: R for language, some violent images, drug use and brief graphic nudity
Running Time: 119 min.
Cast: Michael Moore
Director: Michael Moore
Screenplay: Michael Moore
Review published February 16, 2016
Michael Moore's (Sicko, Fahrenheit 9/11) first film in over six years sees him back in fine form, crafting yet another entertaining left-leaning satirical think piece suggesting that there are better reasons to go to war than for enriching the corporate infrastructure that really controls the interests of the U.S. government. The basic premise involves Michael Moore "invading" other countries, not for oil or to prop up our own dictators, but to steal away ideas that he feels would actually benefit his native United States to be the kind of society that could only exist in his most idealistic of dreams, were we to implement them. From Italy to Iceland to Tunisia, Moore looks at such things as the educational system, government structure, fight for gender equality, the prison systems, and the treatment of the workers, and suggests that many of the ills of our own country could benefit from the examples set by others, who seemingly do the opposite of how we do things in the U.S., yet achieve much better results.
Moore starts out by suggesting that we could do better with our money than to keep funding wars that we get little benefit from, from Korea to Afghanistan, with a great deal of our tax dollars going, not to better the lives of people within our own society, but to either continue to feed the military-industrial complex, or for reasons that make less and less sense as the wars have raged on. The gist of Where to Invade Next is an examination of how other countries have put the needs of its citizens first, and have benefited from enacting laws to help the middle and lower classes in terms of education, health care, and greater emphasis on rest and relaxation. He lets the people of these other nations describe their own experiences within the countries, how it has helped them to be better and more productive people, and then he plants Old Glory to denote "'conquest", a symbol that he's going to steal these resources of ideas to bring back and make America stronger through trying to solve issues of severe wealth inequality, violent crimes, and diminishing quality of life.
As compared some of his other works, Where to Invade Next is a little more light and playful in tone, trying to find the positivity in what he's finding around the world (he's going to "pick the flowers, not the weeds," he says), hoping that we can be enlightened to different ways of thinking about important social policies when we contrast it to our own system of things. Moore is suggesting that having a happier and healthier populace is what makes society thrive, businesses grow, and the social ills diminish. By doing for others, we can be great as a whole, rather than just working for those at the top of the corporate ladder to amass more wealth at the expense of those who struggle to survive down below. In places like Italy and Germany, who have very strong unions that make sure the working class is well taken care of (lots of vacation time, longer lunch breaks, more involvement in decision-making), there may be less profit for those in upper management, but businesses are doing very well, and no one who works for the company needs to get a second or third job in order to hope to scrape by. It also make for a more harmonious working environment, where those who make decisions work closely with those who are doing most of the work, even including them in the ideas process on how they can improve efficiency within the company that ultimately makes for a more sustainable business.
Moore also takes a long look at the educational systems in other countries. In France, there is a greater emphasis on nutrition and quality food for the children, which makes for a healthier environment for education than one that serves greasy, fatty foods with sugary soft drinks. It also looks at its teaching of proper contraception in its schools, showing that it is far more effective than just expecting abstinence in reducing such things as teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. In Slovenia, there is free college for its people, even those from other countries, including the United States, to come and get a better quality education than they could possibly afford back home. In Finland, they've shot from a middle-rank educational system to one of the world's best, by making sure every school meets up to universal standards, reducing the hours kids spend in the classroom, offering less emphasis on standardized multiple choice tests, making sure the students feel happy and healthy at all times, and, most progressive, abolishing most of the homework that keeps kids from being able to enjoy that all-important quality time with their family, friends, or own personal pursuits.
If there are downsides to the film, other than the fact that it never shows the many ills that also exist in these other countries, it's really that which all Michael Moore films suffer from, and that's the partiality of it all. Moore's going to show you all of the things that will make his points, he'll show none of the things that detract from them. It's propagandized and not really "documentarian", but very few filmmakers can make a narrative out of real issues that play with as much humor, pathos and thoughtfulness as Moore. Where to Invade Next may not be able to convert conservatives to his cause, but for those who generally agree with Moore's ideology, or at least have an open mind to listen to what he has to say, it's a very engaging and entertaining film, regardless of any manipulation in the presentation. Moore's not a newsman, he's a seller of his own ideas, one that's sold on the notion of trying to make America a better place It's something that one can sense is very near and dear to his heart, regardless of whether you love or loathe his points of view. He fights for the little guy rather than fat cats, so it's hard not to take his side, unless you're a fat cat yourself, or a staunch believer that the value of one's existence is mainly determined by one's ability to accumulate as much as possible for oneself before we die.
Nevertheless, the rare staunch conservatives game enough to try to view this will likely bail on the film at some point, perhaps after such things as Moore's somewhat incendiary assertion that the drug war is merely a means for white to continue to enslave the black population and to take away their voting rights in the South, or suggesting we should give murderers and rapists all of the amenities of a luxury hotel during their incarceration, or in extoling the virtues of abortion in such places as Tunisia as something we should admire. I suppose it would go without saying for those who know Michael Moore's political ideology that he's mostly out to preach to the choir. It's something even he knows, as there is a definite streak within Where to Invade Next that is directly telling his viewers that we can affect great social and governmental change if we choose to fight for what we believe are our rights.
It's not really an invasion, which is done tongue-in-cheek, but rather, it's a one-man call to arms to the working class and poor to rise up and fight for what's right within our own country, where such ideas have, at one time or another, not been so strange to the way we do business nowadays. What Moore is striving for is to get his country to innovate...again. It's what has made America great, he asserts, doing just the kinds of ideas that these other countries revolutionized their own countries with, if only we demand out of our government and businesses the way we once did in our own heyday. There are so many great things about America, Moore muses, but also so many things we can do better, some which we used to be the envy of the world for doing, and this is the political filmmaker's attempt to kick start some fresh ideas into the mix.
You don't have to agree with him, and chances are you won't in many things, but his think-piece is still a conversation starter, which makes it a worthwhile film to take in, even if you shake your head at it on occasion. Love him or loathe him, it's interesting to see Michael Moore offering some solutions in a sometimes brilliant, sometimes moving documentary format, instead of just pointing out all of the problems, so for that, Where to Invade Next is worth sticking a flag of conquest into to claim for yourself.
©2016 Vince Leo