Original release: October 11th, 2002
Running time: 119 minutes
Writer and director: Michael Moore
Cast: Michael Moore, Matt Stone, Marilyn Manson, Charlton Heston
April 20th, 1999 was a day that would become etched in America’s psyche before it was even noon. In Jefferson County, Colorado, two senior students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, pulled out guns from beneath their trench coats and went on a shooting spree throughout their school. They left 12 students and 1 teacher dead, and 21 injured.
In the chaos and tragedy that would have ripple effects for years to come, serious questions would need to be asked about how such an act of mass murder could have been perpetrated by the youth of America. Blame would be placed on movies, music and computer games which glamourised the use of guns and made violence look cool. Goth culture would also be made a scapegoat and be looked at as something that influenced teenagers to be anti-social, introvert and wear long coats that could hide shot guns.
Yet filmmaker Michael Moore took a different approach with his 2002 documentary, Bowling For Columbine. He asked the same questions as we all did, but sought to place blame elsewhere. We see him opening a bank account in Michigan where he says customers are given a free hunting rifle for making a deposit. After filling out the paperwork and receiving his gift, he then asks the bank clerk, “Do you think it’s a little dangerous handing out guns at a bank?”
Later on we learn about a town in Utah that passed a law requiring its residents to own guns. We also seeing him talking to several gun enthusiasts who all say it’s their right to defend their home and loved ones from aggressors. One by one we see his interviewees describe how this culture of fear has affected them to the level that they feel the need to heavily arm themselves. Moore links this with his idea of America being the world’s biggest aggressor with its military tactics and foreign policy.
This is demonstrated with a montage sequence using Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World and detailing events such as the U.S. overthrowing Iran’s Mohammed Mosaddeq and installing Shah as dictator in 1953, through to CIA trained Osama bin Laden’s attack on the World Trade Center in 2001.
Moore argues that it’s this culture of fear built on violence that breeds damaged American citizens rather than movies, computer games, music and Goth clothing. While he also accepts that it’s the fact that guns are so readily available behind the counter, this forms the major part of his argument in Bowling For Columbine. We’re also shown footage from inside the school, caught on security cameras, as the shootings took place. We see terrified students running desperately for their lives and we hear their cries for help on telephone recordings made by the emergency services.
Moore’s left-wing politics are loud and clear and while I do see a basis for his distrust on issues relating to government and policy, there’s a time and place for everything. As he widens his net he goes beyond looking at the tragedy of Columbine to using it for making an argument on a separate issue which he would then go on to make clearer in 9/11 Fahrenheit (2004). The strength of the documentary lies in those parts where he looks at the lives of youngsters and what influences and speaks to them. When Marilyn Manson is asked what he would say to the kids of Columbine, he replies:
I think when it comes to something like what happened in Columbine, as well as many other school shootings committed by students, the point Moore conveniently evades is that the world is viewed internally when we’re teenagers as opposed to externally when we’re adults. While Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold chose to arm themselves with weapons that were readily available, they were also victims of a society that failed to listen to them when they were screaming for help.
The outside world of presidents, wars, missile companies and nuclear weapons facilities don’t matter when you’re a teenager and this is something Moore skims over in favour of making a different case, which, though compelling, fails once again to pay attention to the youth of America when they most needed it.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .