Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Where to Invade Next

Michael Moore's latest alleged anti-American documentary, WHERE TO INVADE NEXT is hardly what I was expecting.  Starting with the title.  When I first learned of it I was reminded of a fellow churchgoer who, following the U.S.'s invasion of Iraq in 2003, posed that very question, as I'm sure many like-minded W. supporters did.  Moore had covered this ground before; was his new film going to be a bitter conjecture as to what our future missions might be in the wake of ISIL/ISIS?

Not at all. In fact, WHERE TO INVADE NEXT's title refers to a question posed by Moore himself as he globetrots to several European countries and elsewhere to compare each society's norms with those of the United States.  Things like vacation time, school lunches, sex ed., the prison system, drug busts (or lack of), maternity leave.

Of course, what Moore cherry picks to include in his film makes his home country look mightily backward.  Savage, even.  Especially when he intersperses clips of inmates being abused and humiliated back home while those in Norway get to live in pleasant quarters and even (implausibly) have access to sharp objects in the kitchen! The Scandinavian country favors rehabilitation over relentless punishment.  But that idea is not elaborated upon to any satisfaction.  As Moore presents it, it almost seems like criminals are rewarded for their behavior.   The director also interviews the father of one of the deceased children of the summer camp massacre of 2011.  The father wishes no ill on the killer, who received the maximum sentence: 21 years. His attitude of forgiveness (at least how it's edited, mind you) does not echo that of many Scripture quoting Americans.

Many viewers likely already knew that folks in France and Italy get several weeks of R and R and two hour lunches. Maybe they knew that kids in Finland have very little homework and short days yet rank highly in world literacy.  They even still support the inclusion of the arts in their curriculum! And what about Portugal's liberal laws on drugs? No one is busted for possession.  Moore is befuddled by this; he even taunts an officer, "Hey, I've got several bags of cocaine on me now".

All of it sounds too good to be true.  Come now, in France even children in underprivileged neighborhoods have school lunches consisting of gourmet cheeses?!  You can do your Internet searches or ask your friends and family who've been abroad.  I did not doubt (other than those prisoners handling knives) anything I saw in this movie, but am not so naive as to only see the world through a rosy lens.  Moore does not mention the financial crises that have rocked the EU since 2009 (including Portugal).  That would muddy his thesis. 

WHERE TO INVADE NEXT is one of Michael Moore's most engaging and entertaining films. It sports little to none of the scathing tone of FARENHEIT 9/11 or BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE. The film follows the usual Moore formula: sad sounding narration, interviewees whose answers are always met in disbelief by the interviewer, clips from old T.V. shows and movies to emphasize points and inject humor.   Those in the "choir" will nod throughout and applaud at the end (they did at my screening).  Those to the right will again wag their fingers and offer to renew the director's passport. Yeah, the grass is always greener... The rest of us will watch with receptive but critical eyes, wondering along with Moore why all of these other lands are implementing ideas that began in America but have all but been dropped. At least in part.

But you have to wonder what all of these attractive foreigners think when they see this wild haired, overweight, shambling spokesperson.  Is Moore trying to embody a literal symbol of U.S. excess and "ugliness"?

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