Michael Moore Wants a Divorce from Capitalism
- Monday, October 05, 2009
DVD Release Date: December 29, 2009
Theatrical Release Date: October 2, 2009 (wide)
Rating: R (for some language)
Run Time: 120 min.
Director: Michael Moore
Actors: Clips of Moore interviewing elected officials, and video footage of past presidents and economic experts
Michael Moore has been derided for years by those on the Right as a propagandist whose best points are obscured by the truths he chooses to ignore about the issues he tackles, whether it be the impact of corporate policies on blue-collar workers (Roger and Me), gun control (Bowling for Columbine) or health care (Sicko).
The strengths of some of his work—Roger and Me and Sicko being the best examples—have sometimes overcome those perceived drawbacks, but with his latest film, Capitalism: A Love Story, Moore has delivered his least convincing, sloppiest work. The holes in his theory about capitalism being "evil" are so gaping that it's difficult to give credence to his more salutary points.
The film opens with clips from a dated film about Rome, to which Moore draws parallels to modern-day America. He wonders whether future generations will judge America on behavior such as the eviction of working people who can't pay their mortgages. Capitalism is a system of taking and giving, but "mostly taking," Moore claims, as he shows helpless homeowners make their final stand against the authorities who arrive to force them to leave their residences.
This footage is supplemented with sequences of Moore challenging corporate fat cats and legislators on their support of policies he opposes, as well as some sympathetic interviews with people who have suffered because of those policies. An extended look at "dead peasants" insurance—life insurance policies corporations take out on their employees—is among the more potent revelations in the film, but it doesn't sink in as fully as it might have had Moore not cast his net wide enough to catch any and all perceived villains—Republican presidents, businessmen leaving "power lunches" and anyone involved with Goldman Sachs.
If there's a primary villain in Capitalism: A Love Story, it's Goldman Sachs—for its push for deregulation in the financial sector and the way it helped orchestrate the recent financial bailout. As for the film's hero, it's clearly President Barack Obama, whom Moore cites as a change agent after the Bush-Clinton-Reagan presidencies. Mystifyingly, however, Timothy Geithner, Obama's Treasury secretary, is derided as a "failure," but only in his pre-Obama administration roles. The obvious disconnect between Moore's stated hopes for the Obama administration to change fiscal policy, and Geithner's ascendancy to the head of Treasury under Obama, is not addressed by Moore, who is too busy castigating Republicans to recognize the glaring way in which Obama's cabinet selection reinforces, rather than breaks from, earlier fiscal policy.
If there's one thing that sets Capitalism: A Love Story apart from Moore's earlier films, it's Moore's explicit appeal to Christianity to support his thesis. We learn early in the film that Moore went to Catholic school, where he was taught foundational truths that inform his anti-capitalist views. Several Catholic theologians contend that capitalism is not compatible with Christianity. One calls capitalism "immoral, obscene, outrageous" and "radically evil." Jesus' saying "blessed are you who are poor" and "woe to you who are rich" are cited as support for anti-capitalist views, as is the story of the rich young ruler (Mark 10:21). Other portions of scripture that might be seen as supportive of capitalism, such as the parable of the minas or talents (Luke 19), are never addressed.
The film is at its worst in addressing the roots of the financial crisis that began in September 2008. In the film's lowest point, Moore quotes Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, who sees the events as a coup d'etat organized by dark financial forces. Moore then calls for his viewers to rise up and work to destroy the "evil" of capitalism. Regulation is not enough; the entire system must be dismantled.
Moore ends the film with some fascinating footage of President Franklin D. Roosevelt calling for a second Bill of Rights guaranteeing more protections for working people. It's a strong moment that would have been stronger had it not been preceded by numerous wild-eyed accusations that extended from the airline industry to corrupt local judges. The frustrations of Americans over the failure of the banking system are real and deserve better than Moore's angry, unfocused tirade.
The film scores when it shows financial experts trying, and completely failing, to explain derivatives in understandable language. Its footage of election night 2008 is also potent, reminding us that the current administration represents the hopes and dreams of many people. But are those hopes and dreams founded on something solid? Moore, who can be extremely cynical, goes after various elected Democrats, but refuses to draw a line directly to the current president. After a long summer in which the president's approval ratings have taken a serious hit, Moore's failure to engage the administration seems to be rooted in a rosy, Inauguration Day view of the president, rather than in the more sober realities of the public's more recent, crumbling support of Obama and his policies.
As for Moore's call for the audience to rise up and get rid of capitalism, the director shouldn't expect much until someone makes the case that there's a better alternative economic system. Moore has failed to present a solid case with this film, and if this recent historic financial collapse isn't enough to lead to an uprising against the system, one wonders if the case ever can, or will, be made.
Viewers who watch this film might be better off saving their money for a rainy day.
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