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  Film Reviews: A Reason To Be Canadian: Bowling For Columbine  

Tuesday, November 19
A Reason To Be Canadian: Bowling For Columbine
Littleton, Colorado’s Columbine High School brought us the very picture of all that we never wanted to see at a school. Years later we have many varied theories and have turned them into zero-tolerance policies that we hope will prevent this sort of thing from happening again. As Michael Moore’s documentary quickly notes, these theories yield little in the way of actual answers.

A life-long member of the NRA and unapologetic liberal, Michael Moore spends “Bowling for Columbine” trying to find actual answers to the question of “why.” The title comes from the last class that the boys attended before opening fire on their high school – a bowling class.

The question isn’t an easy one to ask, much less answer. Moore finds himself on a journey that includes the Michigan Militia, the producer of “Cops,” Marilyn Manson, executives at Lockheed Martin, Charlton Heston and a lot of Canadians. All of this to find out why Americans shoot and kill nearly 12,000 people each year.

We are presented with theory number one: the US is a gun culture. This is true, as we find Moore opening an account at a Michigan bank and receiving a shotgun as his bonus gift. Still, gun ownership rates are similar in Canada – yet they had under 200 gun deaths last year (amortized to meet US population levels, that would be less than 2000 gun deaths).

Moore moves on to other theories used to explain the problem. Our violent history? America, pales in comparison to countries like Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom. Violent video games? We import watered-down versions from Japan. The music? Germans cornered the market on death metal years ago. Disenfranchised youth? That is one of the few global issues that we can all lament as one. So how do these countries compare with the US and gun deaths? Some have less than 50 gun deaths a year.

With no easy answers in front of him, Moore receives perhaps his most articulate theory while speaking with Marilyn Manson. Manson speaks of a consumerist society based on fear. In his world, we watch news where the main stories are meant to make you afraid of potential harm and commercial breaks only serve to make you afraid that you don’t smell, look or have enough to make it in the world. To live surrounded by fear, it seems only natural that an initial impulse to a problem would be swift and violent.

From there, Moore sets out to see if this theory of fear actually holds true. We learn that violent crime is down 20% in the US, but media coverage of violent crime is up 600%. We find out that Matt Stone vividly recalls being afraid that his failure of a 6th grade math placement would lead to failure in all areas of his life. We see a cartoon about our history of fear. We see industry that serves to protect us from our own fear.

At one point, Moore tries to find out exactly what it is that separates us from the Canadians. In a rather bemusing segment, Moore tests the theory that Canadians don’t lock their doors in Toronto. House after house, Moore opens the door and finds Canadians home and seemingly unfazed that he has entered their homes. One woman after being asked if she’s afraid simply responds, “is there a reason that I should be?”

Moore attempts to tackle much more in this piece. There’s the easy access to ammunition at discount stores in the US (the boys at Coumbine purchased all of their ammunition at a Kmart). Then the seemingly pathological need for the NRA to hold gun rallies in cities immediately after school shootings. Then the amount of industry in the US devoted to weapons of mass destruction. All of which lead to more questions.

Unlike previous Moore documentaries (“Roger & Me,” “The Big One”) or his television show “TV Nation,” this piece shows a Moore unsure of his exact problem or solution. It is a lesson that the gun debate should take. Instead of the polarized opposites of no guns vs. all guns, we might actually might move past rhetoric and have some real dialogue.

This is a rather verbose review, but there were many important things to see in this film. If nothing else, remember that this was the first documentary screened at Cannes in 40 years. It won the Jury Award – unanimously. In a country that purports free speech, this was a film that was almost not released in the United States because it was considered “un-American.” Imagine how much must be in this documentary for it to be critically acclaimed and praised on the International level, but be the cause of (irony warning) fear in our own country.

The Usual:

What it’s Worth: Full fare. Get thee to the theater now. Listen, learn and ask your own questions.

Annoying Theater Goer: I loved this audience. They applauded at the end of this – when was the last time that happened at a documentary?

Main Reason To See This Film: This is the most intelligent look at the gun violence problem in the United States.

Main Reason Not To See This Film: Moore recycles a piece from a “TV Nation” episode called “Corporate Cops.”   This is one of the few loose moments in the film.

MPAA Rating: R

Nudity: No.

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