Review of Fahrenheit 9/11
by Michael Moore.
Reviewed by Debashish Banerji
The two major themes that dictate the story-line of the movie are the following:
1) The most prominent one: The business interests of Bush and his cronies drive their policies in and out of the country – particularly the latter – in the form of war concocted as a response to the terrorist tragedy of 9/11/2001 but this becomes the determining factor for internal policies as well.
a) The maximum amount of prominence for this theme was given to the war in Iraq, with the emphasis on violence, the horror and dehumanization of war, loss of life and limb on both sides and the growing sense of the lack of a justifiable cause behind it to soldiers, their families and people at home; while for the President and his friends it remains a distant abstract war to fuel their greed as they keep their personal lives segregated from it and spend their time vacationing and having corporate dinners. The chief interest here is shown as the corporation Haliburton, as if the war was concocted to benefit this one company and its subsidiaries. Too much time was spent on showing the horrors of war and tracing the sadness and outrage of one lady, Lila Lipscombe as an example of a patriotic American family member and her disillusionment, both for a vital-emotional propaganda effect.
b) The involvement of the Bush family in business relations with the Saudi monarchy and bin Laden family was shown to be so financially viable that it would be logically of greater interest to Bush Sr. and Jr. than the interest of the nation. This was indicated as the reason why members of these families were privately flown out of the US without questioning immediately after 9/11. There were some fleeting insinuations that bin Laden may still be in cohoots with his family and that the Saudis are still on his side. The war in Afgahanistan was shown to be a mock war without any real interest in locating bin Laden or busting his operations.
This principal theme concerned itself with the greed and criminal manipulation of a nation and a world involving suffering on an unprecedented scale by a handful of unscrupulous self-serving capitalists. The close-ups of the President and his men and the intercutting with westerns etc. were meant to show the peculiar combination of inanity and cold criminality of the President and his friends (except Dick Cheney, who seemed to have an overall more ominous sulking presence).
2) The second important theme was the Orwellian subtext of the creation of a state of mass fear as a means of public control through the institution of perpetual war. This theme was unfortunately (in my opinion) underplayed because so much was invested by the director in documenting the moral outrage of the manipulation of war. The gradual erosion of human rights, the control of information, the increase of internal police power, the violence and the absurdity of border control, the passing of unread bills by the senate (such as the Patriotic Act) leading to increasingly fascistic conditions within the state – this second theme, to me, is much more important than the first one, because it has a bearing on the future. The weakness of this component is what gave a curious sense of dissatisfaction to me at the end of the movie. It is this that should have been made into a more full fledged and directed argument against the re-institution of the Republican regime but the opportunity was missed. As it is, criminality and manipulation of the public through things such as war are old hat and have been carried out to some extent by most political regimes throughout history. The idea of “patriotism” is intimately tied to such manipulation, and American idealisms of democracy and freedom for all can continually be invoked as justifications (with some truth) against the message of manipulation. But the hidden agenda of internal power control has bearing on the future trajectory of civilization in this country and should provide the keenest ground for exposure and critique which can open people to their own most important interests – the ability to breathe a free air and grow in consciousness.
My other source of disatisfaction was the totally shapeless structuring of the movie. This was what made it artistically unpleasant (there were other sources of unpleasantness, of course, but these are contextually explainable as post-modern gestures). Speaking of Charles Dickens' style, Sri Aurobindo says somewhere: “Dickens' style is a howling desert”. The same can be said of Michael Moore's style. I saw no eye for organization and proportionate relation of subthemes which could bring out the messages of the movie in a memorable fashion.
But this having been said, it is of course a movie of moral courage and intelligence and I do hope it helps to shape public opinion and beyond that, to eventuallty purge politics of its now ubiquitous criminality.