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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Fahrenheit 9/11 is a 2004 Michael Moore documentary on the 2000 presidential election, George W. Bush's first term as president, the events of September 11, 2001, and the Iraq War. The graphic news footage makes this best for adults who lived through the time and mature teens who are curious about the tumultuous early years of the 21st century in the United States. Conservative viewers will be angered by Moore's anti-Bush and anti-war messaging, and progressive audiences will also be angered, but more for the refresher course on what a challenging and difficult time it was to be left-of-center during the first term of W's polarizing presidency. There are scenes of graphic news footage, including graphic moments from 9/11 and the Iraq War. For instance, in Iraq, the charred, dead body of a Coalition soldier is beaten and then dragged by a vehicle. A dead baby killed during a bombing is shown; so are women hit by napalm. The morning of September 11, 2001, is re-experienced in all-too-vivid detail, in footage of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center, pedestrians running for their lives. Besides the graphic violence, there are some intensely emotional moments of loved ones grieving those lost on 9/11 and in the Iraq War. There's also footage of a beheading in Saudi Arabia. Some profanity is heard, including one scene in which "motherf----r" is repeated several times. This film is designed to provoke strong feelings, so whether or not you agree with Moore's point of view, know that you might want to discuss with your family how he selects material and builds his argument. This film is a strong jumping-off point for families to discuss current events, and to listen to kids as they develop their political beliefs.
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What's the story?
Filmmaker Michael Moore specializes in documentaries that are more like op-eds than news stories. He uses the technique of filmmaking to take a stand, and he likes to stir things up. This time, he takes on the Bush administration and the war in Iraq. FAHRENHEIT 9/11 is a furious and unabashedly partisan challenge both to the George W. Bush administration and to all who accept what they are told without questioning. This film takes on the controversial 2000 election, Bush's extended vacations, his IQ and effectiveness, and his ties to the Saudis. Moore also contends that rich old white people are sending poor young minority soldiers to fight and die in Iraq for a war that is killing civilians and is more for the benefit of American corporate interests than national security or Iraqi freedom. Moore makes his points with an avalanche of facts, wisecracks, cheap shots, and often snarky, sometimes outraged commentary. He presents a fact, and then amplifies it with sitcom-ish music and juxtaposes footage that makes the president and the members of his administration appear foolish or ineffective. Other clips are unfair enough to make the movie less powerful.
Is it any good?
Some of the movie is wickedly enjoyable, but some of it is clutter, and some undercuts the power of the points Moore is trying to make. Presidents get asked questions about all subjects no matter what they're doing, so when President Bush talks about terrorism when he's on the golf course, the implication that he's a modern-day Nero is overblown. Then there are moments that may be manipulative but are nevertheless unassailably genuine. A visit with the mother of a soldier who was killed in Iraq is moving not just for her loss but for her devotion and her ideals. Glimpses of terribly wounded Iraqi civilians and soldiers on both sides are shocking, as they should be. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld explaining the "humanity" of our surgical strikes and Bush hoping that our captured soldiers will be treated as humanely as we treat the Iraqi prisoners are chilling, as they should be.
Then there are Moore's trademarks: making fun of dumb bureaucrats and hypocrites. We meet congresspeople who duck when asked if their children will enlist to fight in the war they voted for, and a sweet little group of Fresno peaceniks who were infiltrated by a federal agent. Much of the material about the administration and the war is already well known to people who follow the news carefully. But assembled as a dossier of complex interrelationships, conflicts of interest, ignorance, and thuggishness, it's a devastating attack.
Some viewers will be offended. Others will take it as an opportunity to consider the way that other media sources tell the story. Fahrenheit 9/11 is a powerful film that should be seen and responded to. We will not know for a generation or more whether it was right for the U.S. to invade Iraq. That is the way of history. But arguments like those posed in this movie will not just help us think carefully about the topics it covers, but also about how we gather and respond to the information we need to make decisions about how to proceed.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Iraq, the 2000 presidential election, and how Moore uses cinematic techniques like music, humor, and the juxtaposition of film footage to underscore his points in Fahrenheit 9/11.
What similarities do you see between 2000-2004 to now? What is different?
In fictionalized war movies, war is often glorified and romanticized, with actual horrors of war sanitized and the ugliness of battle sugarcoated. In that context, how does Moore's use of graphic war imagery and deep emotional grief serve as a counterpoint to decades of war movies that tend to avoid bloodshed and suffering?
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