A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this is a movie that we recommend you watch with your teens. Some viewers will be offended by Moore's anti-Bush message. Others will love it. Moore has a very definite point of view and has created an emotionally powerful movie. Either way, discussing this with your kids is very important if you let them go. War violence is shown, there's strong language, and you see extremely upsetting images such as a mutilated baby and a beheading in the distance, so we do not recommend it for young teens. 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 Iraq, the presidential election, and to listen to your kids as they develop their political beliefs.
What's the story?
Filmmaker Michael Moore specializes in documentaries that are more like op-eds than like news stories. He uses the technique of film-making 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 about anything without questioning. This film takes on the controversial 2000 election, Bush's extended vacations, his IQ and effectiveness, especially in his response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, 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, less cheap but still mighty inexpensive shots, and often-snarky, sometimes-outraged commentary. He presents a fact, then amplifies it with sitcomish 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 soldiers on both sides and Iraqi civilians 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 Congressmen 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 inter-relationships, conflicts of interest, ignorance, 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. It 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 US 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.
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