Whether you love Michael Moore or hate him, his films always provide a ton of information to process and discuss. The sheer amount of information presented in Fahrenheit 11/9 and the desire to cover an unnecessary amount of issues to back up his thesis nearly unravels the film early on. Eventually, Moore does find his thesis and his compelling arguments. In discussing those that work as well as those that don’t, I can promise you that this review will not be short.
The film opens, unwisely, in a similar fashion to 2004’s Fahrenheit 9/11. That Moore makes us relive the entire 2016 U.S. election for nearly the first quarter of its run time is frustrating for several reasons. First, the date in the film’s title was less than two years ago. For those who agree with Moore politically and therefore make up the film’s target audience, those memories are very fresh, and very raw. The crushing disappointment of that election night is not something that has gone away nearly two years later. It’s overkill to have a montage of crying Clinton supporters set to “Fight Song” to rekindle the shock and disappointment of that night. Those who didn’t vote for Trump feel that disappointment every day.
Second, it just seems silly to rehash all that footage in an age where YouTube is a thing. In 2004, it was reasonable to assume that many members of the audience had gone a couple years without seeing footage of the 2000 presidential election, or that younger viewers who may have been to young too care about politics four years earlier would be seeing the footage for the first time.
In rehashing the 2016 election, Moore makes several weak arguments that have little to do with his central thesis. This most notably includes his assertion, presented without any evidence, that Trump was motivated to run for president because Gwen Stefani of NBC’s “The Voice” was making more money than him and he wanted to show the network executives that he was more popular and valuable than her. If that was the case, it backfired. NBC fired him and others in his circle saw the potential for him to win the Republican nomination and convinced him to stay in the race.
Like most Americans, I have read my share of Trump tweets and seen my share of Trump press conferences. This sounds like exactly the kind of petty stunt he would pull. But just because it fits with the behavioral profile viewers have in their minds of this guy does not make it true, and Moore fails to time defend his claim. He makes it and moves on without even showing the viewer proof that Stefani was making more than Trump at NBC. Maybe Moore assumes that information is out there for people to find on their own, but when making such a bold claim as he is, it would be wise to back it up with at least something.
Other unnecessary bits include a montage of creepy things Trump has said or done around his daughter Ivanka. His behavior is certainly creepy, but every one of these clips have been social media fodder for years. And again, it doesn’t tie in with his central thesis. I promise we will get to that thesis, but the film waits 29 minutes to get to it. Those 29 minutes are entirely composed of news clips, with Moore adding voice-over commentary.
The only parts of the first section of the film that are effective or enlightening are when Moore turns his anger towards news outlets that not only granted Trump an unusual amount of air time for a primary candidate, but also waited up to a half hour with the camera focused squarely om the podium that the then-candidate would speak from. Moore speculates that Trump kept them waiting on purpose. He probably did. But the outrage comes from asking why the media let him get away with it? That is a good question. Moore is not the first to ask or answer it, but it’s worth remembering. Moore also turns the focus onto his behavior during the election, and years before it, to occasions where he let Trump, Jared Kushner and Kellyanne Conway off too easily. It’s these two instances in the film’s clunky first quarter where Moore begins building the arguments that relate to his central thesis, that establishment politics on both sides of the aisle for decades have eroded our democracy to the point where Trump could become president. He suggests we need to act quickly and intelligently to keep from sliding further away from the ideals of our founding fathers, which according to Moore, we’ve always aspired to but never fully achieved.
At 29 minutes into the film, Moore finally goes home to Flint, Michigan, (which he has in most of his previous films) to address the water crisis. It’s this film within a film that says everything Moore wants to say about the evils of establishment politics.
For the remaining 90 minutes, Moore shifts back and forth between the water crisis in Flint and how he, the media, union leaders and the Democratic National Committee have at times sold out the people they should have been helping. He does not mince words about how ineffective Clinton was as a candidate. He also goes after the electoral college and the DNC’s super delegates, albeit with mixed results. The problem is he tries to cover so many issues that some of them get very brief and shallow coverage. Also, despite spending a lot of time chastising the media for doing Trump’s work for him, he ends up doing it himself when asserting the idea that Bernie Sanders would have been the Democratic Party nominee without super delegates. Trump also made that same claim in a Tweet that Politifact rated false in July 2016.
We also have to sit through two of Moore’s trademark stunts, first when he goes to make a citizens arrest against Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan, and later when he decides to spray contaminated water from Flint onto Snyder’s lawn. These are the only instances when the Flint segments aren’t compelling. Moore is usually smarter about how he uses his comic-relief stunts, but here it’s just annoying.
Moore is very effective at arguing his point when he focuses on the West Virginia teachers strike. With the state and even the union leaders working against them, the teachers held firm and got raises for themselves and the bus drivers. While on strike, they provided meals to students who would have gone hungry without the lunches provided by the school. The teachers also got a rule rescinded that required them to wear Fitbits and earn a certain number of steps each day in order to qualify for their health insurance coverage. Moore also spends a lot of time with survivors -turned-activists from the Parkland shooting. These examples help Moore provide the audience with hope that the changes they want can happen, but they have to work for it.
After a long stretch of showing the viewers what they can do if they are unhappy with Trump’s America, Moore returns to the Donald himself, and does so far more effectively than he did in the film’s opening stretch. Critics have had a lot to say about the comparison Moore makes between Trump and Hitler. Based on what I had read, I expected this to be done poorly and with about as much thought as a meme. Initially, it looked like my prediction was correct, as Moore gives us a clip of Hitler speaking to a crowd with Trump’s voice dubbed in. It’s lazy and unnecessary, but it is followed by Moore doing a decent job of making the argument for how Trump may not be comparable to Hitler yet, but he shows the potential of becoming someone similar.
Former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton are not spared Moore’s wrath either. Clinton is chided for selling out and becoming conservative in office, while Obama receives plenty of scree time for his horrifyingly bad appearance in Flint, which was not to help the residents experiencing the very real effects of the water crisis, but to reassure them that everything was fine. Moore interviews a Flint resident who says she went to Obama’s press conference thinking he was her president but left thinking the opposite.
The film’s ending is one of the most depressing and urgent I’ve seen in a while. I left the theater feeling inspired to be politically active, but also depressed. The cool autumn breeze on my mile-long bike ride home did little to put me in a cheerful mood. I’ll be feeling this way until I vote or knock on some doors or put that bumper sticker on my car. Then, I’ll try to hold on to a little bit of that feeling until I vote again in a few years, and knock on some doors, or maybe run for local office myself. Moore’s latest film has its flaws, and it may be one of his weaker efforts, but it’s hard to call it a failure when I left the theater with these feelings.
“No, Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders Wouldn’t Have Won Even If Super Delegates Were Nixed.” Politifact, 25 Jul. 2016, www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2016/jul/25/donald-trump/no-donald-trump-bernie-sanders-wouldnt-have-won-ev/