Fahrenheit 9/11

November 1 2004, 0 Comments

After the credits have rolled, Fahrenheit 9/11 begins with recordings of the September 11 disaster. But it’s not the familiar footage of airplanes striking the Twin Towers that we’ve witnessed countless times on news networks and documentaries following the disaster. Instead, for over a minute the screen is completely black, and we hear the planes crashing into the buildings. That adds a level of immediacy to the recording that I don’t think many of us have experienced before. The sound of the impact is so much more terrifying when it comes as a surprise; the way average New Yorkers would have felt on the ground that day. Panicked shrieks of unseen witnesses convey how frightening it must have been to be there. The effect the scene had on me was devastating. I felt it was the closest I’d come to truly grasping the horror of that tragic day.

Much has been spoken and written about this film. It is one of the most controversial films of our time, during a very controversial period in history. However, I think all of that has distracted audiences from the fact that this is a very good film. Michael Moore previously won an Academy Award for his documentary Bowling for Columbine, but that was in a ‘minor’ category: Best feature-length Documentary. For this movie, Moore wants the top award: Best Picture. Whether those lofty ambitions will be fulfilled or not, I cannot say, but Fahrenheit is certainly an achievement. All the audience ever expects from a film is that it entertains them; this movie is likely to take you from laughter, to tears, to incredulous disbelief and ultimately to anger. Not many other movies I’ve seen this year have been able to affect me in as many ways.

At two points in the film Moore shows us mothers weeping for their dead children. The first is an Iraqi woman who vows vengeance in the name of God on the people responsible for the death of her child. The other is the mother of an American soldier killed in action during the Iraqi conflict. The irony is that they both hold the same person responsible for their loss. Michael Moore makes it unerringly clear who his target is in this film. From the opening shots of the film – where he uses out-takes as an opportunity to present President George W. Bush in the worst light possible – until the final credits roll, Moore builds upon his criticism of Bush’s Republican government. He certainly hit the mark: in a recent poll by Britain’s Total Film Magazine ‘Dubya’ was voted as the year’s top film villain for his unauthorised appearance in Fahrenheit 9/11, beating out other movie villains like Doc Ock in Spiderman 2 and Elle Driver in Kill Bill 2.

The point at which Bush’s villainy is most apparent is the damning passage of film showing him reading a children’s book to a classroom in Florida when a secret service agent whispers news of the September 11 attacks to the president. The amateur footage shows how at one of the most significant moments in recent history, the so-called ‘leader of the Free World’, can think of absolutely no action to take for over seven minutes. Isn’t this supposed to be the scene in one of those Hollywood disaster epics where the president heroically takes charge, marshals his most trusted advisors together and devises a plan to save us all? Bush is not that president…

Bush’s incompetence is scary enough. I find it chilling to think that someone so simple can be in charge of the most powerful war machine on Earth, and yet retain such a frivolous attitude to that position that he would flippantly refer to himself as “The War President”. Even scarier is the shady side to George W. Bush that is exposed throughout the rest of the film. He is portrayed as a man with friends in all the right (or wrong, depending on your political leanings) places. There’s the matter of Bush’s questionable discharge from the Texas Air Guard. Moore also brings to light the string of unsuccessful business ventures that Bush has been involved in. At every failure though, Bush seems to have an ally to lend a hand. Many of these associates are Saudi nationals. Most notably, family of Osama Bin Laden himself.

Ever since the attack on the World Trade Centre numerous conspiracy theories have been put forward regarding who might ultimately be responsible for the tragedy, with a variety of diabolical schemes suggested as a motive. What I liked about Moore’s film is that he doesn’t focus on these conspiracy theories. He sticks to events that have either been publicised or at least officially documented (in some cases without the public knowing about them), and although the movie makes bold suggestions, Moore doesn’t form a conclusion for the viewer. He leaves it up to the audience to decide where the facts lead.

Indeed, many people have questioned how factual the film really is and complained that the movie is unfairly biased against the Republican regime; that Moore’s editing of the sequences portrays events out of context so as to skew their meaning. But isn’t that what film-making has always been about? Creating a film is a subjective experience. The director tries to show us events the way he sees them in his own mind. The resulting one-sidedness is not a bad thing. I believe that a biased film serves to raise questions. Whatever side of the argument you find yourself on, a heavily slanted opinion always forces you to evaluate where you stand regarding the topic being discussed. These days – with all the media bombardment we receive from marketers asking us to vote with our wallets and politicians asking us to support their agendas ¬¬¬– don’t we need to be asking questions about everything that is presented to us? Moore’s film doesn’t tell you what to believe. He makes a case (albeit heavily in favour of his own cause), but still allows the audience to come to their own conclusions.

The title of the film is derived from the title of the powerful Ray Bradbury novel, Fahrenheit 451. Four-hundred-and-fifty-one degrees Fahrenheit is the temperature at which paper burns. Bradbury’s story was about a totalitarian regime in the future who, in order to completely control the minds of their subjects, demanded that every book in the nation be burned. Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 carries the tagline, “The temperature at which freedom burns.” There’s a passage in the movie detailing the ratification of Bush’s election as president by the U.S. Congress. One by one, representatives who protest his election are dismissed, since they need the backing of a senator for their challenges to be heard. This is sanctioned by a law that has existed in the American constitution ever since the nation was formed. Not one senator moves to support the 10 representatives who challenge Bush’s election. All these representatives are people of colour. It makes you wonder whether real freedom has ever existed, and if so, was it always only for a select few? These are the kinds of questions that will raise a real sense of anger in you as you watch this film and try to make sense of all that is happening in the world now. And a film that raises those sorts of questions must be important. Whether you agree with its politics or not, this is one of those films that everyone should see.

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