Bowling for Columbine (2002)

“Why not use Gandhi’s way? He didn’t have guns, and he beat the British Empire.”

PoolMan’s Rating: I swear, the blue haired girl does not represent me.

PoolMan’s Review: It’s all too often that I’m the butt of many Canadian jokes here at the MRFH offices. Maple syrup this, no electricity that, ride a polar bear to work the other… I’ve heard ’em all. There’s a fondness amongst the American people, my cohorts included, to take a gentle poke at us Canucks. And as the folks in my country are so wont to do, I usually just smile, nod, and let it slide. Watching Bowling For Columbine, I was sadly reminded that the joke is really on you guys.

Now, first off, don’t think I’m off on some anti-American rant here. It’s just that this movie points fingers at all kinds of things you’ll never see the same way again about the Good Ol’ US of A. I had considered waiting to review Bowling For Columbine, so that one of my American counterparts could be the first to get their say. I considered not reviewing it at all. But you know what? This is the kind of flick that needs to be seen by as many people as soon as possible.

What am I talking about? Bowling For Columbine (which I swear gets harder to type each time you do it) is the latest entry into the wonderful world of stirring up poop by Michael Moore. The man who brought us Roger & Me is back, and he’s determined to put one heckuva big footprint into the backside of gun-crazy America. Michael goes across North America (including a foray into Canadaland) to create a documentary with one simple question: Why are there so many gun-related deaths in the United States of America each and every year?

Thought provoking, entertaining, infinitely quotable (the quote section below barely scratches the surface), disturbing and touching, this is one powerful little movie. The movie opens with Michael going to a bank to open the account that gets him a free rifle. That’s right, THEY’RE GIVING OUT GUNS IN THE BANK. He goes in with that wild eyed look, and specifically asks for the account with the gun. He shows no interest in the bank or the account, just the gun. He gets it. He’s a pocketful of ammunition from robbing a bank, and the tellers just smile like there’s no tomorrow.

This is the first of a long string of images that will make you shake your head and wonder what exactly is going on with the world. In fact, everything from South Park to stock footage of real people being shot through the head with real bullets crosses the screen, sending the audience through a roller coast of emotions and reactions. You’ll laugh and you’ll cry. It’s the most cliched line in movie reviewing, but it’s 100% true. Watching the cartoon version of a brief history of America sends the audience into hysterics, and watching the actual video feed of Columbine High School’s security cameras will hit you in the gut like a ton of bricks. We are also treated to the systematic deconstruction of Charlton Heston and Dick Clark as both are held in insidious lights.

Is Moore manipulative? Absolutely. The man may look like an unshaven teddy bear, no more dangerous or cunning than you or I, but he twists the audience’s feelings around just as effectively as he tricks Heston (the current president of the National Rifle Association) into admitting that he has no actual need for a gun. Moore’s determination to expose all the elements that contribute to a violent gun death rate that’s roughly 400 times greater than that of Japan’s leads to a very slanted point of view, where the gun lover is painted to be something of a simpleton. Be aware, if you’re a firearms enthusiast you’re likely to come out of this experience fuming mad. BFC’s aim is to draw as much attention to the shocking amount of death related to guns, and if you’re a perceived contributor, you’ll be in the crosshairs too.

I was amused that a sizeable portion of the movie is actually shot in Canada. Moore initially reasons that there are several things that could be reasons for the gun-related death rate. Amongst them is America’s violent history (Britain and Germany are both worse, and yet have a paltry amount of gun violence), violent media (which the entire rest of the world has), and number of guns (Canada actually has more guns per capita than the States by a long shot but again hasn’t got anywhere near the same number of deaths). So Moore crosses the border into smalltown Ontario and starts talking to the residents. What he finds is a population that doesn’t lock their doors and a news report whose lead story is about speed bumps instead of local murders.

Even the school-skipping teens he stops to talk to are surprising. He meets up with three Canadian kids who are cutting class to hang out at the Taco Bell. I initially groaned, wondering why Moore would choose these three pierced, dyed slackers to represent my country, but started to understand as they began speaking quite eloquently about their perceptions of the problems faced by their neighbours.

By the time Moore gets to shock rocker Marilyn Manson, it’s pretty clear what his goal is: let’s look past the obvious scapegoat reasons for gun violence (history, quantity, media) and see what really causes it. I’m not really any fan of Manson’s, but he’s every bit as clear and intelligent here as any interview I’ve ever seen him take part in. He actually says what probably amounts to the most poignant thing in the entire film about the children of Columbine, and holds an attitude that I’d love to see more people take. Is Marilyn Manson a saint? No, but he doesn’t claim to be. Moore takes the time to show the human side of a man who’s so often demonized, and the brutal side of people we typically idolize.

Bowling For Columbine is definitely anti-gun, and if you expect much in the way of an intelligent rebuttal from the gun community, it’s there, but it’s tough to see. Is it propoganda? Yes, most definitely. Full of easy to swallow rhetoric and sentiments that deliberately shift the audience’s emotions, it’s definitely a long string of loaded questions and prepared answers. Furthermore, it starts branching out in all kinds of directions that aren’t totally unrelated to the topic at hand, but you may occasionally have to strain to find the connection. Still, the intent is noble, and the heart is genuinely there. Watching Moore’s face awash in stunned happiness as a two day campaign against K Mart actually results in the phasing out of ammunitions sales is like nothing you’ll ever see anywhere in Hollywood’s pantheon of fiction. Clearly, he’s a man who believes in what he says.

That’s good enough for me. Highly recommended.

Sue’s Rating: O Canada!

Sue’s Review: My son (15) has inherited my geekish tendancies. He’s a one man random quote generator of Terry Pratchett books, plays StarCraft and Final Fantasy like there’s no tomorrow and never uses words of less than three syllables in casual conversation if he can help it.

He owns a shotgun. Yes, a real one.

My daughter (13) is into fashion, make-up and The Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants. Her fingernails are constantly sporting colors that I don’t equate with sentient life forms and her hairstyle changes as fast as the weather. (In Wisconsin, that would be every five minutes.)

Although she is admittedly not a gun enthusiast, she knows how to properly load, shoot, safe and carry both rifles and shotguns. Both of my kids are graduates of Wisconsin’s DNR Hunter Safety course.


Well yeah. I am too, in a way. Personally, I don’t like guns and I haven’t ever shot anything with more moxie than an air-rifle or a compound bow. (With a wussy 35lb. draw.) I was raised in suburbia by parents who had no interest in hunting, so the rural culture that I’m now very much a part of occasionally chafes in uncomfortable ways. However, I understand how important it is to manage the whopping huge deer herd in Wisconsin with hunting — including eradication zones to control the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease. I know that without guns and guard dogs, my ex’s two hundred or so sheep and lambs would be quickly reduced to coyote kibble. I know that when a goat or cow suffers a catastrophic injure, it is considered neither humane, nor cost-effective, to wait around three hours for a vet to arrive with a syringe full of euthanasia. In other words, I recognize and accept the necessity of firearms in the area in which I live. I understand.

Just before homecoming last year, the principal of a rural school, not thirty miles from where I’m sitting and typing this, was shot three times by a student who walked onto campus with a handgun, a rifle and a chip on his shoulder. Although the principal succeeded in tackling and disarming the boy, he died of his wounds within hours. I… don’t understand.

Michael Moore’s main question in Bowling For Columbine is no different than my own, and is simply this: Why?

Why are Americans so prone to using guns against each other? What is it about us that makes us go to school or work packing heat when things aren’t going our way? Our history of violence is no worse than that of many other countries; Germany, for instance. Our exposure to violence in media and entertainment is certainly little different from… oh, Japan. A larger percentage of Canadians apparently have guns in their households than Americans do, and yet our percentage of gun related homicides is vastly higher. Why?

The answer Moore comes up with, after making pointed jabs at everything and everyone from news networks to politicians to Dick Clark and K-Mart, racism and Charlton Heston, Lockheed-Martin, foreign policy, welfare to work programs, and the entire freakin’ concept of abject national FEAR is this: No one actually knows and we should probably all move to Canada where they don’t even have to lock their doors.

Michael Moore — he of the rapier wit, intrusive cameras and titanium plated gonads — gives us a lot to think about. His observations are compelling. His illustrations of the problem are shocking. However, it’s fair to say that his arguments are also very biased and his presentation is far from evenly balanced. Okay, this is his film and he can say what he wants, but it’s something to keep in mind.

I can’t argue with the gravity of the subject matter, or the heartbreak and horror of gun violence in America. I have my own point of view which maybe focuses more on impatience, martyr complexes and a skewed sense of entitlement in the American psyche, but who can say that my point of view is any more valid than his? But this is my review and I can say what I want. Fair’s fair. So here’s my two cents anyway as to why I’m not exactly leaping onto Moore’s bandwagon.

I can sort of see Moore’s comparison between guns and missiles, but I’ll bet the missiles being periodically transported through Littleton never once occurred to those little, detestable, cowardly, arrogant, putrid dribbles of swine excrement (darn our PG-13 rating, darn it to heck) as they planned and staged the attack at Columbine. Cut me a break, okay? It’s silly and irrational to lay the disaster at Columbine at the feet of Lockheed-freaking-Martin. (For the record, I don’t think it was K-Mart’s fault either, although I applaud their change of policy regarding the sale of ammunition.)

No matter how hard I try, I cannot equate the massacre at Columbine to the case of the six year old who shot another six year old in a Michigan classroom. No matter how I spin it, and I tried, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold’s actions were evil. Pure and simple evil. Let’s not forget Harris and Klebold weren’t just two guys who snapped under the pressure of bullying and took guns to school one fine morning. They’d planned the massacre for a year, and their primary weapons were supposed to be bombs, not guns. (In that way, I think Moore was in error for making Harris and Klebold’s actions the fulcrum of his documentary. It’s a gun control issue because the bombs didn’t blow up as planned?)

Conversely, regarding the incident in Michigan, all I can really see is the criminal stupidity of someone who wasn’t smart enough to put their gun out of the reach of a little kid who could not possibly understand the ramifications of shooting a classmate. Hey, right after my divorce, I started over again at minimum wage and had to fight hard to balance being the primary breadwinner and primary care-giver. I’d stop waaaay short of blaming Dick Clark (or in my case, the British Petroleum board of directors) for my children’s misbehavior.

Anyway, tragedies, yes. Guns, yes. Comparable, no.

The perception that everyone in the United States who owns a gun is a latent homicidal maniac who likes to build bombs in their spare time is absolutely ridiculous. So is the perception that all members of the National Rifle Association are sneering, bombastic, callous jerkazoids. I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of gun related crimes in the U.S. are not committed by members of the NRA. Am I a fan of the NRA? No. Do I think the actions of the NRA as presented in BFC were in poor taste? Yes. Do I think Charlton Heston chewed pretty hard on his own bunions by the end of the film? You betcha. (Although, again you have to look at context. Heston comes across as a racist in BFC, but he marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington D.C. and openly opposed racial segregation in the sixties.) Anyway, did the NRA kill those kids? No. Does the NRA advocate gun safety? Yes. Did the NRA meet in Denver after Columbine? Yes. Did they cancel many of the activities that had been planned for that meeting? Also yes. Be fair.

Offering a high-end, single-shot, bolt-action hunting rifle at a bank in a rural community is not quite the same thing as giving away TEC-DC9’s on inner city street corners. Granted I don’t think a gun is the best incentive gift for opening a savings account, but a little perspective doesn’t hurt. In fact, when I spoke about this to a few local guys, the thoughtful consensus was, “Y’know, it really depends on the interest rate.”

Although I think any reasonable person can offer rebuttals for a lot of Michael Moore’s arguments, I don’t want to completely take away from the validity of the question he asks. Maybe we’ll never fully understand why folks in the U.S. are so willing to resort to firearms to solve their problems, but we’ll never solve the riddle if we never think about it. So kudos to Moore for that.

Bowling For Columbine is well worth watching — except for those with weak stomachs or an inability to think for themselves.

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