A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Bowling for Columbine is a documentary about gun violence that includes a number of disturbing scenes to illustrate its points, such as footage of real-life people being shot, gun suicides, assassinations, battle footage, and so on. Perhaps most terrifying, the movie includes security camera footage from the Columbine High School massacre. These scenes are brief, but effectively horrifying. Bowling for Columbine also includes strong language, criticism of American political policy, a brief shot of a nude man with the private parts of a woman on an album cover, an interviewee who smokes and a few references to drinking.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Filmmaker Michael Moore's documentary examines gun violence in America. Moore interviews a wide range of Americans, including shock-rock star Marilyn Manson (whose music was tied to the two boys responsible for the Columbine High School massacre), NRA leader Charlton Heston, the brother of Terry Nichols (Timothy McVeigh's co-conspirator), and many others. Moore is deeply concerned and the ultimate bleeding heart liberal, but he is not an ideologue. He learned to shoot in high school and is a life member of the NRA. When a bank gives him a rifle for opening a new account, he casually checks the action while he asks if anyone ever considered that maybe guns and banks were not the best possible combination. Much of the time he lets the story tell itself, but sometimes, Moore becomes the story, as when he brings two young survivors of the Columbine shooting to K-Mart's national headquarters to protest their selling of ammunition, including the bullets still in the bodies of the two young men. After a day of deliberation, a K-Mart spokeswoman reads a statement.
Is it any good?
Any documentary about gun violence in America in which the single most intelligent and insightful comment is made by a guy named after a dead beauty queen and a serial killer is worth a look. This documentary is more mosaic than polemic and mordantly funny, though it does veer a bit over the top when Moore tries to link television producer Dick Clark to the murder of a six-year-old by a six-year-old, because the boy who killed his classmate had a mother who worked at one of Clark's restaurants in a welfare-to-work program. And his relentless questioning of a clearly memory-impaired Charlton Heston, leaving a photo of the murdered girl in Heston's home after Heston stalks out of the interview, has the unintended result of making Heston seem more sympathetic.
But Moore's movie confronts complex questions fearlessly, even as it acknowledges that it does not have the answers. Why do our fellow North Americans in Canada, who have proportionately the same number of guns, shoot each other only one-tenth as often? Why are Americans fearful even out of proportion to the amount of violence we subject ourselves to?
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the questions Moore raises. Why do Americans shoot each other so much more often than any other country? Why don't Canadians lock their front doors? Why was Moore successful in persuading K-Mart not to sell ammunition any more?
What kind of filmmaker is Michael Moore? What do you think he leaves out of his movies? Have you heard any criticism of his methods?
What can you do to try to reduce violence or to change other things that matter to you? What different avenues do people use to affect change?
For kids who love important stories
Our editors recommend
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.