A black screen was the only possibility. A muffled soundtrack…the first explosion…blackness…screams of fear and disbelief…another explosion…on and on in the darkness… our fears, nightmares, hates and hopes (yes hopes) were absorbed. Swept up, at once expressed and banished into the blackness. Slowly the light emerged. Images of swirling papers, facing staring up in disbelief and horror.
There was no other way to show the events of 9/11. Michael Moore knew this. The nerves are still too raw. Prejudices too brittle and sharp. For a while, for a few precious weeks, there was a space for questions. The jelly of uncertainty wobbled as people struggled to understand. The inevitable question of ‘why’ sprang up – at least for some. But the crystals formed quickly and set into jagged, sharp edges.
In the immediate aftermath, sales of American flags went through the roof. People rallied round the flag and beat the drums of war. But George Bush’s responses to the events of 9/11 have been slowly tempering the brittle resolve, rounding the edges of the harsh public backlash against the ‘attackers’.
It is now clear that the only connection between Iraq and Al Quaeda is the letter ‘Q’. As we all know, ‘Q’ is shorthand for ‘Questions’. And Michael Moore goes some way to providing answers.
Like, how a mother feels when her son is killed in a far off country, fighting a war, that he doesn’t believe in, for no clear purpose other than enriching the business buddies of the President? And like why US Senators turn their back and walk away when asked if they would like to enlist their children in the army to fight in Iraq? But we already knew the answers to these questions. At least many of us did. But what Moore does is make it real.
You have to struggle not to share the tears of the mother as she reads the last letter from her son. Not quite sure whether to laugh or scream as George W stands on a golf course, driver in hand, spouting war rhetoric before turning to play his tee shot with a joke for the cameras. You can’t help but realize that for him, it is all just a hideous and sick game.
You feel a bizarre empathy with young US soldiers as they turn the stereo up full boar before heading into battle…chanting ‘burn mother f###er, burn!’ along to the CD, while others reflect on how they can live with themselves after having killed other human beings. Moore makes us laugh. He makes us cry. He fearlessly and brilliantly walks the line between patriotism and fervent criticism of the US government and the military industrial complex.
Of course there are things the film could have said but didn’t. Things are missed out, arguments partly made, and it has Michael Moore’s idiosyncrasies etched all over it. But he tells a compelling and important story, at a crucial time in history.
Bush bashing provides most of the real entertainment in the film, and there are some explicit calls for action in the upcoming election – kind of like electoral ‘product placement’. But Moore does go further than bi-partisan politicking. He ends with the obvious but seemingly poorly understood truism that war is not about justice or peace - it is about making sure that people who have power and wealth are able to hold onto, and increase that power and wealth.
As I left the cinema on the opening night in San Francisco, there was a throng of activists handing out leaflets about how I could get involved in the campaign to get Bush out of office. I passed a Democrat stall, screaming ‘VOTE FOR JOHN KERRY!”…the ardent activists focused on signing up as many people as possible while the fire was still burning in their bellies.
As I wandered off to the pub with my friends, I thought to myself, didn’t John Kerry (and most Democrats) vote in support of the war in Iraq?