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Bowling for Columbine

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Jan
Bowling for Columbine
from Film Forum, 10/23/02

Cliff Vaughn (Ethics Daily) says Bowling for Columbine, now available on DVD, is still worth seeing. Michael Moore's documentary about the problems of gun ownership, violence, and fear in America has drawn a lot of criticism, and some of his information has proven faulty. However, Vaughn writes, "Whether viewers agree with Moore's conclusions, they are sure to be engaged by his style and his stance. The DVD's special features … reveal a Michael Moore in touch with Scripture." He elaborates on some challenging questions Moore raises that reflect some level of familiarity with the Bible.

from Film Forum, 10/24/02

Why does America have a higher murder rate than any other industrial nation? More specifically—why do we shoot each other so frequently? Those are the questions that drive Michael Moore's occasionally insightful, often infuriatingly simple-minded documentary Bowling for Columbine.

Many readers of this column are probably going to avoid anything made by Michael Moore. Moore is famous, after all, for his left-wing rants, aggressive campaigns against big business, diatribes against the President's policies, and brusque interviewing techniques. But in this film, Moore puts an elbow in the ribs of both conservatives and liberals. Sure, there are rants a-plenty. But no other film out there will stimulate discussion on these relevant cultural issues better than this one. By the film's end, he's raised more questions than he's answered. They are excellent questions.

It's also entertaining, at times hilarious, and full of surprising revelations. Many viewers will find their opinions challenged regarding the causes of America's gun-violence epidemic. One by one, Moore shoots down the popular explanations. Some say, "Too many guns result in too much violence." Moore, a member of the NRA, discovers otherwise, learning that other nations have similarly widespread gun ownership, but far fewer shootings. Others say, "Our culture is saturated with violent music, violent video games, and violent movies." That's true, but nations that rarely see gun violence are obsessed with America's violent media exports.

Moore zeroes in on a specifically American problem—a rising condition of fear and distrust in its general populace. Isn't it interesting that as violent crime has decreased over the last few years, news media coverage of violent crime has risen 600 percent? When the news spends most of its time reporting criminals-at-large, epidemics, wars, and dangerous possibilities, how does this affect the way we view our neighbors? And what does this all have to do with Columbine? You may not agree with many of Moore's opinions—I'll admit, some of his claims made me roll my eyes. But I encourage you to give his high-spirited documentary a chance. It will provide fuel for challenging discussions. It's one of the year's most important and entertaining films.

Other online religious press reviewers are excited about the film as well, offering similar disclaimers about the show's frank-talking host.

Doug Cummings (Chiaroscuro) writes, "That a documentary … addresses this subject at this time—when school shootings and terrorism warnings and American war-making are at a fervor—makes it a must see. It's clear that American culture breeds violence and Moore's confrontational ethics and social musings point toward a deep-rooted problem calling for genuine soul searching and active redemption."

Mike Hertenstein (Cornerstone) writes that viewers may well "leave this film devastated, wanting to sit alone for awhile and ponder the world we have made."

Mainstream critics continue to celebrate Moore's accomplishment. At the Cannes Film Festival, Bowling for Columbine was the first documentary to win special attention in 46 years, earning a standing ovation that ran for nearly 20 minutes.

Michael Wilmington (Chicago Tribune) writes, "Columbine is … one of the most blisteringly effective polemics and documentaries ever. It's unnerving, stimulating, likely to provoke anger and sorrow on both political sides—and, above all, it's extremely funny. It's only in America that you could make a movie like Bowling for Columbine." David Denby (New Yorker) characterizes Moore as "a malicious media ironist … an all-around pain in the neck. He will never be much of a thinker or social analyst, and he can be stunningly unfair. But when he follows his nose … he implicates himself in what he hates and fears, and he emerges as a wounded patriot searching for a small measure of clarity."

Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times) has one major complaint—the film's rating. "The movie is rated R. The MPAA continues its policy of banning teenagers from those films they most need to see. What utopian world do the flywheels of the ratings board think they are protecting?"

Indeed. Bowling's brief violent images are no harsher than what can be seen almost any night on network television. But here, these images are in service of something far more important.

from Film Forum, 10/31/02

Last week, Film Forum posted early religious press reviews of Michael Moore's riveting documentary Bowling for Columbine. This week, critics in the Christian press continued applauding the film.

Edward Blank (Catholic News) offers a cautionary recommendation: "Moore constructs a valid inquiry into the nature and frequency of American violence and the ease with which weapons and ammunition may be obtained, but he clouds his case with an assortment of specious arguments. Bowling for Columbine may encourage enlightened dialogue on some of its notions. The danger is that it may be accepted too much at face value by impressionable audiences unaware of the manipulation built into Moore's arguments."

J. Robert Parks (review pending at The Phantom Tollbooth) responds with great enthusiasm: "Rather than seeming arrogant or nasty as he did in parts of Roger and Me, he comes across as incredibly friendly and earnest. By linking himself with ordinary people, he also broadens our possibilities—he provokes us in the audience to wonder: maybe I can question my leaders, maybe I don't have to take what's being spoon-fed to me on TV, maybe I can protest what's going on and make a difference. And the movie's dramatic moments, particularly in a return to his hometown of Flint, are genuinely moving. Bowling for Columbine is a great movie. Don't miss it."

from Film Forum, 11/27/02

Michael Moore's documentary examining gun violence in America, Bowling for Columbine, also drew more raves this week.

Darrel Manson (Hollywood Jesus) says, "In ancient Israel, the prophets often were called upon to show Israel its true identity. Perhaps if Amos had a camera, he would have been very similar to Michael Moore. Israel, like America, much preferred its own image of itself. But God (and God's prophets) called Israel to face the facts of their errors and their failings. Looking in that mirror was never easy. Looking in the mirror Moore forces us to look into is not easy either. But perhaps by looking we may begin to see ways to bring ourselves back to what we should be."

Moore may resemble a prophet, but it is also worth noting that many are attacking his credibility as a journalist and calling into question his facts.