Michael Moore spares no one in his epic Fahrenheit 11/9, an exasperated essay about the betrayal of American values. Passionately and determinedly, Moore dismantles the notion that America was doing fine before Donald Trump moved into the White House. His sweeping diatribe takes no prisoners and, in one memorable scene, includes a stinging critique of Barack Obama.
The film is, of course, a fierce denunciation of the current administration, but the graft and cronyism that typifies the 45th President’s incumbency is presented here as a nightmarish consequence rather than a cause of the country’s woes. Moore answers his own provocative question re Trump’s America: “How the fuck did this happen?!”, with a potted history of American Unexceptionalism. He targets key offenders of all political stripes, who have contributed to the empathy-deficient, partisan chasm that now divides America. His sights are set on: self-satisfied liberals with a blind faith in the system; weak-willed lawmakers beholden to special interest lobby groups (hello, NRA); apathetic citizens too cynical to vote; media organisations chasing clicks and ad dollars with frenzied and disproportionate coverage of the Trump circus; and state and local authorities who prioritise corporations above constituents when it comes to accessing clean water.
Moore’s skill as a filmmaker is in making the personal political, and he is at his most effective when he offers his megaphone to the voiceless, for first-person accounts of the impact of elected officials’ abandonment of civic duty. A return to his home town of Flint, Michigan (whose economic woes Moore first profiled in his 1990 film, Roger & Me) to tell the story of its water crisis, is a heartbreaking case in point (and includes the aforementioned Obama rebuke).
Listen: SBS movies & TV podcast The Playlist reviews 'Fahrenheit 11/9'
Michael Moore’s methods and his self-aggrandising narration can be hard to take for some viewers, who might have tired of his gale force delivery of facts and stats in service of the broader argument. But don’t write off Fahrenheit 11/9 too soon. It’s a clear return to form for Moore (and the callback to his incendiary Fahrenheit 9/11, which examined the presidency of George W. Bush and the War on Terror, is more than a happy coincidence of the calendar). Moore’s insertion of himself into the narrative is essential here, especially given his own bizarre and funny-with-hindsight personal interactions with the current occupant of the White House, and with the Trump relatives who now hold senior positions within his administration (Jared Kushner loved Moore’s health care crisis documentary, Sicko, so much, that he threw an after-party for it following the film’s 2007 premiere. In a red carpet interview clip, we watch the man who is now the President’s son-in-law/senior advisor gush effusively about Moore’s forceful filmmaking, as Moore himself looks on and beams).
The wellspring of rage the Flint sequence inspires is used effectively by Moore, to move his essay toward a hopeful conclusion: "How the fuck do we get out?". Moore's answer? Channelling outrage effectively, rather than trying to minimise it altogether. The film showcases those who are taking the kind of action that their elected officials to date, haven’t. Moore meets David Hogg, the activist student who survived the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting on Feb. 14, 2018, and progressive Democratic Congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who won a stunning victory in the primary elections in November 2018, and whose social media plain-speaking has Republicans in a spin.
Fahrenheit 11/9 may give you whiplash, but if like me, you follow the daily political news cycle you’d be accustomed to that anyway.
Follow the author here.
Watch 'Fahrenheit 11/9'
Screened: SBS Australia, Wednesday 30 January, 8.30pm
Now available after broadcast at SBS On Demand
United States of America, 2018
Director: Michael Moore
Starring: Michael Moore, Donald Trump, Joe Biden, Roseanne Barr, Stephen K. Bannon, Roger Ailes, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Brooke Baldwin, Ashleigh Banfield, Joy Behar, David Hogg
What's it about?
Academy Award winner Michael Moore (Bowling for Columbine) is back, as he turns his attention to examine Donald Trump’s election win on November 9, 2016. Moore travels across America to get a sense of the social, economic and political impact of the Trump Presidency amidst the chaos of the new Administration’s provocative tweets, staff firings, and outright lies. Fahrenheit 11/9 is a provocative and comedic look at the times in which we live, exploring the two most important questions of the Trump Era: How did we get here, and how the f#%k do we get out?