Michael Moore is undoubtedly the most polarizing filmmaker in America. There are just as many people who revere and laud both the man and his films as people who hate his guts. That’s no small feat for someone who’s primarily made documentary films. He’s popularized cinema verite so much that they’ve sometimes become blockbusters and any new release of one of his films becomes an event. It would be difficult for anyone to dispute that he’s a gifted filmmaker and a talented entertainer, but his insistence to push his opinions on people causes as much rebellion as it does followers. In Capitalism: A Love Story, he takes on the big and rich corporations that reside in America, which have played the villains in most of his films, but perhaps this time there will be more willing to care.
The top one-percent of America’s population is wealthier than the bottom ninety-five-percent combined. This is a well-distributed fact, which leaves the lower rung of people cash-starved. The fear that one day that less financially solvent group might snap and takeover is warranted and Moore builds it up that throughout the film. The opening credit sequence begins with loads of security camera footage of armed robberies. Masked men (or women) wielding shotguns and pistols, holding up liquor stores, banks and department stores of all shapes and sizes. What would normally be disturbing and unsettling images are juxtaposed with peppy rock music, creating an almost endearing quality. Violence is contained within, but coupled with the sonic overlay one realizes these people are just trying to make it in the country the same way victims of Hurricane Katrina were “looting” bread.
Moore then presents clips of a film about the fall of the Roman Empire, once the strongest in the world, creating likenesses to the current state of America. Moore makes it known he loves this country and wants to redirect its fate. The current struggle of oppression: capitalism. Much like Moore’s first film, 1989’s Roger & Me, he uses his hometown of Flint, Michigan as a stand-in for Anytown, USA, with numerous families being evicted from their homes due to failure to pay their rent. Some may find little sympathy for these people (Chris Rock’s line “I have two jobs, you can’t get one,” may apply here), but there are larger things at work and it stems from the economic system the United States has adopted as their own, allowing the richer to get richer and ensuring the poor stay where they are. One of the victim’s of the evictions says he fully understands why some people feel the need to point a gun in another’s face for money. Times are indeed tough.
Making matters worse, there are large corporations (representing “the rich”) in constant pursuit of keeping others down and profiting from their misery. Moore discovers a story about a widowed mother, whose husband had died of cancer. He worked for Bank of America, who knew about the illness. Out of the “kindness” of their hearts, they took out a life insurance policy on the ill-fated fellow, kindly naming themselves as the beneficiary. They were awarded $1.5 million upon his death. The widow, not a solitary cent. To further ram the point home, the company took out a second policy on their former employee. This one profited them a cool $3.5 million, for a nice $5 million take on the death of one of their workers. Not wanted dead or alive, but dead. However, a sliver of hope remains as CitiGroup sent a private letter to its most wealthy clients instructing them to be very afraid of the lowest common denominator, due to their power to vote. No one vote is more important than the other, and thus an uprising is very much in the cards.
Moore is a fascinating filmmaker in his ability to weave non-fiction stories into something wholly entertaining, educational and enduring. He seems to know how hard and just when to push the proper buttons, eliciting the exact emotional response he desires from his audience. Moore is invited into the home of another victim of “Dead Peasant” (the actual name for it) Life Insurance. This time, a 26-year-old woman with two children, now grown. The widowed father reads one of his final letters to his wife, which he authored while unable to see her as she laid in her hospital deathbed. Indeed this letter is extremely emotional, but Moore knows not to force another weepie on the audience. He just allows the viewer to be placed firmly in the viewer’s shoes, to appreciate the gravity of the situation.
Many of Moore’s critics lob accusations of his penchant for pointing out problems, but not offering solutions. It’s impossible to pretend this film is any different, but for all the films made to force-feed information to the audience, isn’t it refreshing to be given something to think about and marinate on long since the end credits roll? Typically, the measure of a good film is one which invites discussion or at least creates memories which grab you and hold on for dear life. Capitalism: A Love Story is full of such moments and creates a buffet of food-for-thought from its opening frame to its informational website epilogue. Some want to be fed answers, this film welcomes you to discover them.
Another criticism, which is easy to dispute this time around, is from those who feel Moore is too prevalent and “in-your-face” for them to handle. He’s certainly not the typical leading man, rotund and shaggy-haired, but he genuinely cares about his subjects and his objectives and is never short on creative ways to make a point. This isn’t a film about whining about the countries problems, it’s about labeling them so they can be corrected. All is not doom and gloom. There is plenty of uplift to be had even if there isn’t a fairy-tale ending. After all, this isn’t a tale made in Hollywood, it’s one made in America.
It was almost a year ago when this country voted for change by an astonishing margin. New developments have been hard to come by, but we’re able to rest easy knowing there’s always someone fighting with all his might for the U.S. to progress and not maintain status quo when things can always be improved. However, Michael Moore needs helps. Step one in the crusade is to see Capitalism: A Love Story. For step two, I’ll quote the late John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” The question is, what are you going to do about it?