There’s every possibility that Michael Moore’s new political documentary will not be quite as you expect. The diatribe against the 45th president of the United States that the right anticipated and the left might have hoped-for is largely absent. That’s neither the theme nor the filmmaker’s intention. Though, considering the litany of social media attacks the documentary has already received from those who have yet to see it, being told that Moore uses an intentionally somber and largely sedate approach to the current state of the union – he allows quotes, facts, and figures to speak for themselves – will presumably mean little. And while there are moments that from time to time will make you laugh, unlike most of Moore’s previous films, Fahrenheit 11/9 is not particularly funny. And with good reason.
The film begins with the 2016 presidential election leading up to Trump’s surprise victory, and ends with a sobering finale. But the lengthy middle goes in other directions, away from the president. And as fascinating as the journey becomes, after a while, there’s a good chance you may question what it all has to do with 45. Yet, upon reflection, it should soon become evident that everything Moore covers in that middle act has to do with the man who won the election. In order to comprehend Donald Trump and to fully grasp the concerns of his future intentions, groundwork is required.
“Was it all a dream?” Moore’s customary droll, voice-over narration asks. Before the opening credits, the film covers those moments leading up to the president’s victory. Much of what is shown we’ve seen before, but in a presidency where countless new and astounding revelations can dominate the political discourse in just a few days, often in a single day, it’s good to be reminded what occurred over two years ago. After all, it now seems such a long time ago.
As seen in a montage of clips, no one believed that Donald Trump could win. Shots of pro-Hillary crowds, prematurely celebrating in the streets and in halls, dominated the news, while talking heads and political pundits on cable stations and political countdown shows concurred that Trump would never be the next president. “I got to vote for a woman for president!” a woman declares, openly weeping. Even Fox News appeared relieved that once all the votes were tallied they wouldn’t have to spend their energy defending and supporting the millionaire for the next four years. No one believed it… except one.
Ironically, it was Moore himself. In a sequence recorded at Fox, the announcers laugh as they report that it was documentary filmmaker Michael Moore who was the lone voice among a sea of celebrities and political experts stating that we shouldn’t be too sure of a Hillary win.
Then it happened. The Electoral College, that body of people representing the states, changed the flow of the political tide. Total of actual votes be damned; it was the system that even Trump said would work against him that won him the presidency. The most amusing segment out of this whole introduction is the video that captured the look on the faces of the Trump team themselves as they somberly marched on stage to celebrate a victory. They looked stunned, every one of them, as if silently questioning what had just happened while wondering, what do we do now? Even the victor had no speech prepared. Though look closely and you’ll notice there’s a definite grin on Steve Bannon’s face.
During the following credits, glimpses of a Donald Trump wax figure, molded piece by piece, ready to take its position in a recreation of the Oval Office at Madame Tussauds solidifies what the right was celebrating and the left could not believe: Donald J Trump was the 45th president of the United States. “How the f*** did this happen?” Moore’s voice-over asks.
The film will later veer off, away from Trump, and explore in detail the reasoning behind the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, Moore’s hometown. What the rest of the country thought it knew about the situation and the state’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder, the businessman who championed the switching of the water supply from the clean water of Lake Huron to the stale, heavily polluted water of Flint River, is just the surface of this pond scum affair. The full story is devastating. But why is it explored in Fahrenheit 11/9, you might ask, when such a horrifying event and its deadly outcome could warrant its own documentary. Once you recognize the parallels, it starts to make sense.
Having a CEO declaring he can run Michigan like a business, then making decisions based on corporate policies solely for the intent of generating profits begin to sound familiar. Political measures meant to protect are forcibly lifted. The film shows how Snyder orchestrated a non-existent emergency resulting with a coup relieving elected city leaders of their duties, replaced by Snyder’s personal, like-minded businessman appointees. As Moore narrates, no terrorist organization had found a way of poisoning a city. That was achieved by the Republican party and its CEO governor.
At this point, in case you’re thinking that maybe such a conclusion is pushing a bias too far, consider what is revealed. When it was proven that the damaging water supply was not only directly responsible for residents’ ill health, many of whom died of Legionnaire’s disease, but also created damage to the manufacture of automobile parts in Detroit’s factories, damage that affected factory costs as well as political donations to his party, Governor Snyder was forced to finally act. Which he did. He sensibly switched the water supply back to its original clean source. But only for the car factories. The residents would have to contend with the brown water from the rancid Flint River. No profit to be made from helping anyone else. So much for the notion that its people that always come first.
But it’s not just the party to the right that comes under Moore’s revealing facts and figures. The New York Times, the established members of the Democrats, even both President Clinton and Obama are victims of embarrassing facts, supported by carefully selected numbers and videos. His agenda in Fahrenheit 11/9 is to look at the big picture and produce inconvenient truths, even if you can’t always be sure of things he may have conveniently neglected in order to support his point without doing homework of your own. It’s only when Moore grabs a pair of handcuffs and declares he’s about to attempt a citizen’s arrest when approaching Governor Snyder’s mansion that the film feels it’s taken a wrong turn. It’s a stunt, admittedly a humorous one that makes its point, but what worked in the more satirical Roger & Me feels out of step with the tone of this film.
Ultimately, however, whether he’s on screen or not, it’s all about President Trump. Looking back on his career before the presidency, how he talked; the lawsuits; the lechery – “I’ll be dating her in ten years,” he states after passing an eight-year-old girl going in the other direction on an escalator; the lies – “I’m gonna take care of everybody,” he insists regarding healthcare; avoiding taxes – “That makes me smart,” when questioned in a debate; the fake promises – “You people are gonna be rich so fast!” he declares to a crowd at a rally; and the incite to violence – “Knock the crap out of him,” he shouts to his followers regarding a protester at a rally, adding, “I’ll pay the legal fees,” – all add to the portrait of a man shown to be unconcerned with hiding his immoral corruptions.
As filmmaker Moore successfully explains without having to spell the obvious, his followers, the ones wearing the t-shirts that read slogans such as “I’d Rather Be Russian Than A Democrat” neither seem to care nor realize how much they’re being used. Like Michigan Governor Snyder’s model, those measures meant to protect are being systematically lifted, and it’s only achieved from a power drawn by the continual support of his base, the ones who, in the long run, will be the most negatively affected.
To vote is a citizen’s only line of defense. If you come away from Fahrenheit 11/9 with anything, Moore is telling us, it’s the need to cast that vote before the ability to do so is removed by executive order. And don’t think that having a Constitution is going to help. Moore’s sobering explanation at the film’s conclusion with examples shown will soon have you reconsidering that particular myth.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 126 Minutes