Writer & Director: Michael Moore
Cinematographers: Rick Rowley & Jayme Roy
In the modern culture of navel gazing and harkening back to some mythical days of yore, a figure like Michael Moore, whose criticizing eye is completely brazen and unapologetic, is condemned, attacked, and his patriotism is usually questioned with vitriolic hatred and spite. It does seem that it’s never really permitted to say anything negative when discussing American society, culture, or ideology. Doing so is deemed unpatriotic – it’s a simple attack meant to shut people up, instill fear, and keep the status quo. Especially in this election year, we keep hearing about the founding fathers who every day resemble the gods of Olympus more and more; we are constantly encouraged to make America great again, to return to a status once held and still in everyone’s collective memory. If anyone disagrees then they are called names, told to move elsewhere, called a communist, but definitely loyalty is questioned. But why is that? Why is criticizing, or wishing for things to be different, or even looking elsewhere for examples to follow such a bad thing? Why does it make someone unpatriotic if they are willing to showcase a flaw or a lack so that things could be improved? I would even be so daring to call such a person the most patriotic. Someone who refuses to turn a blind eye to social, economic, and political issues – someone willing to call the country out, especially if the purpose is to improve conditions. Michael Moore is not always the most palatable person, his messy presentation and extremely opinionated and loud demeanor turn a lot of people off, but I do believe he is not just patriotic, but more so than most people.
Moore doesn’t address simple topics in his films, and usually sets sights on themes that are touchy and extremely polarizing: gun control, health care, the whole notion of capitalism as a way of life. Michael Moore doesn’t hate America, as many people would have you believe, he loves it so much that he wishes it were a better place to live. His new film, Where to Invade Next, has the same mission: go around the world, ignore the issues and problems in the countries visited, and instead focus on one or more things each nation excels at, and claim it for America. The conceit is a little cheesy, with Moore planting his flag and announcing his invasion in each country – it does grow a little tired – but the filmmaker is more subdued in this documentary than in others, letting the power of the ideas of these countries take center stage. Moore’s ideas are still strong, radical, and ideological, but his demeanor has softened a bit, and it’s what makes this film perhaps his strongest yet.
The first country visited is Italy, and the focus of the segment is the country’s workers and the days off they receive, for vacations, personal time off, maternity leave, etc. One of the most successful part of the film occurs when locals are questioned about their rights, their customs and are met with Moore’s (likely feigned) disbelief and their matter of fact response, only to switch places when confronted with American realities. When the Italians discover that in the US nobody is guaranteed any paid vacation days and that it is up to the employer to provide them or not, the shock and disgust is palpable. In France the director sets his sight on children’s school lunches, sexual education, and touches on a topic that will be revisited throughout the movie concerning taxes and the benefits of a slight tax hike (blasphemy in America) vs. the benefits and overwhelming saving in the long run it would provide, using the European models as examples. In Finland the topic of education is discussed, as it is in Slovenia, but focusing on university.
Germany is an interesting segment because after employment and the strong middle class is featured, Moore does something rather brave by also bringing up the memory of past atrocities, and by consequences the trend amongst many people, including the citizens of the US, for collective amnesia or minimizing the problems of the past. In Germany citizens are constantly reminded of the errors of their ways, with museums, plaques, street names, and many other physical reminders of mistakes. One of the most affecting moments of the film finds a young student who had just became a German citizen explaining how now he also shares in the responsibility of Germany’s past. Only through memory and acknowledging the past can one move forward and improve – if one dismisses the past, skirts responsibility, tries to rewrite truths, then what good can possibly ever come?
We get another touching moment when Moore visits Portugal. Here drugs are discussed, along with health care, the prison system (which is also the focus of his visit to Norway), voting, and the death penalty. At the end of an interview with several members of the Portuguese police ask Moore if they can directly address the US, its citizens, and especially its police force. What follows brought me to tears, as they make a plea for better conditions, behavior, and human decency and a call for getting rid of the death penalty. Powerful and food for thought.
The last two counties on Moore’s itinerary are Tunisia and Iceland, where a focus on women’s health and rights are discussed. At a time when women’s health and right to choose are under attack, seeing that a country like Tunisia, which is predominantly muslim, offers free healthcare for its female citizens and where abortion is legal without political or violent threat, makes one seriously think why it isn’t so here as well. In Iceland, the first country to elect a woman as head of state, the example of the day when 90% of the women went on strike demanding better rights and conditions shows the power people can have and what the outcome can eventually be. Every girl growing up in Iceland knows with absolute certainty that she can achieve absolutely anything she wants if she works for it, the concept of a glass ceiling seems to be inexistent. The law demands that a company’s board cannot be made up more than 60% by any gender, making it so that equality really is the law of the land. The positive effects seem to be innumerable.
As residents and citizens of the United States we should want the country we live in and depend on to be the best it could be. We should want to keep improving and not get stuck in a rut believing we are the best just because we say so. We should not dismiss critique, our flaws, our issues. We have problems and we need to deal with them head on, not say that things are too difficult to fix, too expensive to deal with, or say they don’t even exist in the first place. We could be an example for others, but we must look elsewhere for examples as well, and then act accordingly and change. We must make our voices heard and work towards a better society, and show that it can work elsewhere and demand the same here. That is what true patriotism really is.