After his 1989 documentary Roger & Me put Michael Moore on the map, he has emerged as America's lone media-savvy liberal spokesman. Which is pretty discouraging in a nation of 260 million. There must be somebody out there who can probe deeper and less divisively than Moore, but in the meantime I'm thankful that he exists. He is smart enough to know that his I'm-just-a-regular-guy approach to his leftist political rants will take his message much further than the ivory tower intellectualism of a Noam Chomsky. He is also very funny. And since entertainment has become the most effective means of disseminating information and opinion these days, Moore is riding the crest of that wave with his TV series, his books, and his latest film Bowling for Columbine.
Centering his film around the April 20, 1999 massacre at Columbine High School (the "bowling" of the title alludes to the report that killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold attended their morning bowling class shortly before arming themselves for their attack), Moore sets out to answer the question "Why do so many Americans keep shooting each other?"
His quest takes him to NRA meetings (cannily, Moore happens to be a card-carrying member), rifle ranges, outings with the Michigan militia, interviews with Marilyn Manson and Charlton Heston, and a poignant adventure with two of the surviving victims of the Columbine shootings. He comes up with something of an answer to his question, and it's not because of the availability of guns, America's violent past, the Second Amendment, racial unrest, or any of the usual suspects, but because of a nationwide culture of fear.
Though Moore can't answer just why we have become so fearful and distrustful of each other, he makes it clear that this fear is why we kill each other hundreds of times more often than our surprisingly gun-happy Canadian neighbors. And although the saddest thing about this sad film is that the only people who will pay to see it are the people who already agree with everything Moore has to say - knee-jerk liberals like yours truly - Moore is wise enough (I think) to suggest that, by focusing on the fear of the individual as opposed to government policy or the big bad NRA, each of us can do something about removing our own suspicions and fearful tendencies - even if it's just leaving our front doors unlocked while we're having dinner, like they do in Toronto.
Although Moore can't help but include a few asides about American foreign policy that have little to do with his central theme, Bowling for Columbine is funny, troubling, angry, touching, and - most of all - eminently watchable.