The MultiCultural Center screened award-winning filmmaker Michael Moore’s most recent documentary, Where to Invade Next, on Monday, May 3 as part of the Next System Teach-In event. The film that had a one-week limited release in theaters during the month of December, only to be re-released mid-February.
Film and Media Studies Professor Constance Penley, one of the speakers for the event, noted that it was still out in theaters but actually being prepared for DVD distribution. Penley and Sociology Professor Richard Flacks hosted the event and set up a dialogue after the screening.
The film itself was interesting, and there was plenty of humor. Moore’s documentary is done in a travelogue style in which he claims he is “invading” European countries as a one-man army to steal ideas on how to make America great again. Yeah, if you know Moore, you know that he can be extremely liberal. He makes really good points about the American political system and how it should be altogether reformed, but he can come off as aggressive, to the point where he skewers his own arguments as ridiculous radicalism.
Moore visits various European countries to find new ways to reform various American systems. The countries he invades vary from Italy, to steal the job employee vacation benefits (eight weeks paid vacation by default, no kidding), to Sweden, which observes the three-hour education system that doesn’t drown students in hours of homework. Amongst the two issues listed above, he also references free college for students in Slovenia, gourmet cafeteria food in France, maximum detention prisons that appear like college dorms in Norway and the country of Tunisia in Northern Africa, which has given women universal rights, just to name a few.
This is definitely a far-reaching documentary for Moore, but because there are so many issues addressed in various countries in the span of two hours, the film is dense and the arguments are shallow. Michael Moore means well, but even he addresses his bias in the film.
Moore stated something along the lines of picking out the pretty flowers of the countries, not the weeds. His intent with this film is to address alternative ways that the United States could change for the better. His big twist in the end is supposed to serve as a reflection on America and question why it has digressed so far from its original dream for Americans.
Moore tackles important issues, no doubt about that. There are so many various far-spread branches which results in his sacrificing of a well-rounded argument. His past works are successful because they focus on one main issue (Sicko, Capitalism: A Love Story and Bowling for Columbine to name a few), but Moore has the intent this time to address everything wrong with America.
In the process, he inadvertently displays Europe in rose-colored glasses to the viewer as they observe in disbelief various cultural practices. These are brilliant ideas that should stand as a representation of what America should become, but Moore’s film is only able to scratch the surface of the potential of the ideas and what we, as a country, could do with them.
After the screening there was a dialogue between Penley, Flacks and the audience that stuck around. This is where I see the film working best – it is a conversation starter. It presents these issues for dialogue. Sure, Moore gives his skewed-to-the-left take on these issues, but he also presents extensive research on them. When the professors opened up the floor for comments, Penley remarked on the critics of the film, directing their critiques towards Moore’s appearance, particularly his obesity, and their “rejection of a powerful argument and instead using a feminist argument.”
One student in particular who spoke out against the film, Maja Tolgraven, an EAP student from Sweden who is a feminist studies major, brought a European perspective on the film. She stated that the representation within the film is that of an older generation as opposed to the younger generation, who have their own issues like living with their parents into their mid-30s.
Ultimately, as Tolgraven stated, Moore gives a shallow representation of European systems. At the same time, the film works as a conversation starter bringing up issues that people are not comfortable arguing about. When a film with such conflicting ideas can cause discussion, it may not be that bad.