Updated: Apr 10, 2019
Written by Andrew McGowan
Illustration by Phoebe Nichols
In Movies with McGowan, staff writer Andrew McGowan looks at recently released cinematic entertainment from critical and theoretical perspectives, shedding light on their social and political significance in contemporary pop-culture.
Even at fourteen years old, Michael Moore’s controversial documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 still stands as an eye-opening yet transparent critique of the Bush administration. Thus, audiences could rationally expect his new film, titled Fahrenheit 11/9, to be a similarly thought-provoking and clear critique of the current Trump administration. However, Fahrenheit 11/9 actually offers an entirely new perspective that is perhaps even more radical than Moore’s usual work. Rather than excessively hopping on the Trump-bashing bandwagon, in his new film, Moore addresses politics-as-usual, using his signature dry wit and participatory-documentary style to shame the government for creating a system of false democracy that overlooks the people it was created to serve.
Make no mistake, Moore certainly criticizes Trump throughout the film, but this is not the movie’s sole topic. Moore’s rhetoric actually remains less partisan than one might expect. He spends adequate time highlighting the faults of the Clinton campaign, the Obama administration, and above all the longstanding political party binary that many Americans feel forced into during elections. Throughout the film, Moore takes the audience on a journey around the “Real America,” interviewing citizens who have become victims of selfish political decisions. While Fahrenheit 9/11 evoked pathos by going overseas and presenting graphic images of Iraqi civilians suffering from America’s involvement, Fahrenheit 11/9’s approach remains predominantly domestic. The movie gets up close and personal with underpaid teachers in West Virginia and student witnesses from the Parkland school shooting, as well as the people of Moore’s hometown-- Flint Michigan--who had to drink contaminated water due to a government official’s greedy agenda.
At times, Moore even meets Trump on his level, attacking the press for reinforcing the party system and profiting off of political races. The film thus does not absolve any group from blame for the current political climate. Rather than paralleling Fahrenheit 9/11’s directness towards the president, Fahrenheit 11/9 actually seems to follow more closely in the footsteps of Moore’s 2009 documentary Capitalism: A Love Story. This film targets no individual, but rather the entire group of Wall Street professionals who benefit from the American people’s financial crises. Fahrenheit 11/9 points a similarly general finger, but instead of pointing at affluent businessmen, it points at affluent politicians.
The film, however, does not leave its audience hopeless. Moore disperses notes of optimism throughout his movie, highlighting the American people’s triumphs over their domineering authorities. He shows the rebellious West Virginia teachers earning the pay raise they deserve, the resilient students of Parkland influencing elections, and radical politicians such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez running provocative grassroot campaigns. Overall, it is probably for the best that Moore focuses his creative efforts beyond a basic criticism of Trump, for doing so would likely only come off as platitudinous at this point. Instead, Moore paints a larger and ultimately more important picture with Fahrenheit 11/9, colorfully illustrating overlooked issues in America’s political system that, if addressed and overcome, can help create a nation that is truly for its people.