Movies

An urgent call for action

Michael Moore's 'Fahrenheit 11/9' rallies progressives to take a stand

How do you take aim at the ultimate moving target?

In his political documentary "Fahrenheit 11/9," filmmaker Michael Moore explores the Trump era with two questions: "How the f--- did this happen, and how the f--- do we get out?"

Moore's unabashedly partisan op-ed begins with a comedic look at the Nov. 9, 2016 election night -- the "11/9" alluded to in the title (also a self-reference to Moore's highest-grossing film, 2004's "Fahrenheit 9/11"). We see the sad deflation of Clinton supporters as the election turns and victory partiers listening -- on repeat -- to Rachel Platten's feminist anthem "Fight Song." Then, Moore scores Trump's surprise win -- shocking no one more than Trump himself -- to "Vesti la giubba," the crying-clown aria from "Pagliacci." Moore has a keen comic sensibility, and the current situation proves ripe for his satire.

But the greater impression of "Fahrenheit 11/9" is its dire accounting of the corruption of the Republican Party, the sellout centrism of the Democratic Party and the victimization of working-class Americans, emblematized by the criminal poisoning of tens of thousands residents in Moore's hometown of Flint, Michigan, under Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who Moore positions as a role model for Trump's "autocratic" get-away-with-anything tactics. Flint has been the most consistent character in Moore's films, beginning with his debut "Roger & Me," which explored the betrayal of the city by General Motors (the automaker has a cameo in "Fahrenheit 11/9" as a hissable beneficiary of Snyder's crony capitalism).

Perhaps it's due to Trump fatigue, but Moore's material on the 45th U.S. president only has a fraction of the impact that his enraging Flint story had. Unapologetically and wittily employing propaganda techniques, Moore quickly catalogs everything hateful about Trump (the misogyny, the racism, the rollbacks of civil rights and environmental protections, et al) and takes a cheap shot in an unnecessarily prolonged montage on Trump's lasciviousness toward his own daughter, Ivanka. Even some liberals will feel he goes a bit far there, although the most in-your-face passage outlines the fascist tendencies of Trump, drawing extensive parallels to Adolf Hitler (in case anyone might mistake this film as being for Trump supporters).

Moore also takes shots at the Clintons, Barack Obama and himself, but the film isn't so much the angry screed as it's an urgent call to action. Moore champions "the fighting spirit" of grassroots progressivism, highlighting new Democratic congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, her expected soon-to-be-colleague Rashida Tlaib, and gun-control advocate David Hogg (a survivor of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting) and students from Parkland, Florida, who have now mobilized for voting drives and gun-control advocacy. In this way, "Fahrenheit 11/9" feels like a deliberate answer to the old chestnut that films like this only "preach to the choir" instead of reaching across the aisle. Moore knows he's preaching to the choir: In the face of 100 million disenfranchised non-voters, he wants to stoke righteous anger and get like-minded people in the streets, in the voting booths and, better yet, on the ballots.

— Peter Canavese

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