Not the judgment of film critics but the passage of time will decide whether Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 can change the world. Change, of course, is the whole purpose. Whatever satisfaction Moore derives from his ever-mounting income and awards, he clearly will consider this picture a success
only if it helps drive George W. Bush from office. Voters will write the real review. I can merely fill time until November, with the thought that Fahrenheit 9/11 might be interesting as a movie after it has done its work as politics.
As with any good polemic–and this is an excellent one–you sit in the theater thinking of how someone else would respond, some imaginary “undecided” in a swing state, or perhaps your Uncle Max the Republican. You don’t much monitor your own reactions. But then, as you leave the movie house, you might notice that the sidewalk chatter sounds oddly muffled, the traffic looks a little blurred, as you begin to realize that your attention has not come outside with you; it’s still in the dark, struggling with the feelings that Fahrenheit 9/11 called up and didn’t resolve. Are you outraged, heartbroken, vengeful, morose, gloating, thoughtful, electrified? Moore has elicited all of these emotions and then had the nerve–the filmmaker’s nerve–to leave you to sort them out.
I think there are two bundles of messages in Fahrenheit 9/11, one political and one emotional–and while the first is about as ambiguous as a call to take up pitchforks and torches and storm the castle, the second is too complex to unsettle those in power. It works to unsettle you. It’s what makes Fahrenheit 9/11 a real movie.
For clarity’s sake, then, let’s start with the politics: the film’s bill of particulars against Bush, and also against the Democratic leadership, which in Moore’s view has colluded most shamefully in the misrule the world now suffers. The prologue to Fahrenheit 9/11 revisits Bush’s rise to power in late 2000, paying particular attention to the hunched posture of the Democrats who let him step on their backs. Here are Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle, counseling “acceptance” of the non-election; and here is Al Gore, mildly officiating over the Senate session that legitimized the theft of his presidency. For the first time in Fahrenheit 9/11, but certainly not the last, Moore tells his story through borrowed but decidedly nonstock footage, which you most likely have not seen before–in this case, a scene of members of the House, all of them African-American, coming forward to contest the election, while Gore calmly rules their objections inadmissible because no senator, not one, would satisfy Congressional rules by signing on to them.