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Moore proves king of pain in latest film

In his latest film, “Bowling for Columbine,” Michael Moore repeatedly asks why we battle evil in our country without evaluating its roots. While the focus of this documentary surrounds the need for gun control in this country (and even takes us on a pilgrimage to the Littleton Kmart to de-shelve the 17-cent bullets related to the Columbine massacre), the bigger picture journeys into understanding why we are pulling the trigger. He asks why the number of deaths of gunfire in the United States exceeds 11,000 per year when only 36 or so occur in gay Paris.

Michael Moore tackles this topic with kindness and brilliant satire and is motivated by an authentic love and empathy for the fate of humanity. He’s one of those amazing guys who make films not to see his name in lights, but to present and seek answers for a world where it is not uncommon to hear that one has blown out his neighbors’ brains. As usual, Moore traverses America with the camera in tow, following his awkward gait to the homes and workplaces of those related to Columbine and/or the issue of gun control in this country. As usual, he asks the questions with the same passion and befuddled humility we have known and loved since “Roger and Me.” What he concludes, basically, is that the media feeds into our fear of the enemy (be it a pill, a snake or an inner city gang) and encourages us to consume in order to fight the fear. More to the point, he blames the media for blaming this, that and the other for spreading the fear of fear.

Coupled with interviews with personalities such as Marilyn Manson and TK Nichols and an empathetic arm folded over the shoulders of a

schoolteacher who tears up in the hallway, Moore has once again succeeded in showing America just how astray our founding fathers have led us.

Bravo. I love that Moore tromps and noses through the thicket of riches that shellac the soul of an empty man in a big house. I love that he can keep a straight face when he asks bank officials if they think it’s just a bit strange to give out a free gun with a new account.

Moreover, I love that he’ll ask anyone – no matter who they are – what the solution is to all this destruction. I love that he begs Dick Clark to “help him” understand why it is okay for single mothers to flip burgers and mix drinks for the socially condoned derelicts while her kids wait for her to come home and explain why there is a loaded gun lying around in the top drawer.

What I don’t understand is how Moore can be so close, yet so far.

The killer scenes in this documentary were the ones that involved Moore’s empathy for the individual humans involved in this story, even the “bad guys.” At the same time, he asks why human nature leads us toward harming one another. The same humble inquiry leads him to plead with Charleton Heston to look at a photo of a girl who was shot and killed; this plea is not intended to crush him, but to understand. Heston begins to fidget, and we see his face breaking, clearly trying to play it tough.

In fact, like magic, we see countless participants in this film who wave away their pain with a twitch of the head or blink of the eye. This is the same magic employed by the founding fathers humorously depicted as the big-eyed scaredy-cats who flee the enemy before coming to America. The fear runs so deep, we see them flee one thing after another, leading to deadbolt isolation in the suburbs. Fear is a natural reaction to things that threaten our survival; other than shopping, what can we do to understand our fear? Instead of pointing fingers at the suburbanites, we should instead ask what can be done to bring them back to the melting pot they support on Election Day. We should accept the fear, not be ashamed of it and go from there, without turning it into a game of us versus them.

“Bowling for Columbine” smuggles that issue in with the cargo. While it depicts the media accusing all the usual players – from “bad” parents to “bad” cafeteria lunches – the subtle things that reach us deeply are wherein the answer lay: the hunger for human connection that brought us to see this film in the first place, the notice we take that Moore has again put on more weight, despite his hard work and success. We understand that he does what he does because he really wants to know what’s missing that so many of us have so much, yet are so bloody empty.

What this all points to is not a lack of things, but a dearth of connection and presence with each other that the human instinctively and viscerally needs in order to possess an empathy gene. If one is taught to go to war over what he looks like or owns instead of how much he deeply feels for the endurance of his species, something he can only feel by connecting to him, then he cannot be expected to really care who gets blown up. Faulkner understood this when he talked about man’s need to endure. So did Victor Frankl when he talked about making the best of things in a concentration camp. In “Bowling for Columbine,” we see Moore gets it when he intuitively walks beside a person in pain and tells her it will be okay.

Roxanne Sadovsky’s biweekly columns appear alternate Thursdays. She welcomes comments at [email protected]. Send letters to the editor to [email protected]
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