Where should the USA invade next? A fairly loaded question given the last decade, but something we have come to expect from the adoringly or devastatingly (depending on where you position yourself) rambunctious Michael Moore over his career. I’ll admit, his more recent films are but a distant and vaguely fond memory for me (Sicko (2007), Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)), but Bowling For Columbine left an impression on me that is impossible to erase. So, where does the provocative and brash documentary-maker situate himself in his most recent film, Where to Invade Next. The title of the film is actually not a question per say, but a statement, and one that Moore explains through his ‘conquests’ abroad.
Moore is a personality that has developed over time, from a more serious, documentary and confrontational style that was seen in Bowling for Columbine, that has tipped the scales towards an over-the-top and extroverted sledgehammer, observed in his latest film. Through it, Moore plays the stereotypical US citizen, being baffled by a convenient, hand-picked selection of countries that challenge the glaring flaws and inadequacy he sees in his home country. Subsequently, this tongue-in-cheek tour attempts to balance itself between slight mockery of stereotypes, genuine admiration of different state’s attempts to provide their citizens with “the good life,” and naive optimism that the U.S.A can be great, once again. Throw in just a little nationalistic sentiment, and you get a pungent cocktail of a documentary that will mean different things for different audiences.
[alert type=white ]This tongue-in-cheek tour attempts to balance itself between slight mockery of stereotypes, genuine admiration of different state’s attempts to provide their citizens with “the good life.” [/alert]
You have to admire Moore for making this film, in the sense that it’s an ode to the joy and importance of difference, and one that hopes for advances in the future regarding societal shifts and their understanding. It will make you laugh, it will make you smile, it will make you think, and it’ll certainly elicit some cringing. It paints of a picture (predominantly) of Europe that suggests it is doing some, if not many things right in terms of governance, social policy, and individual lives. Nonetheless, cynics amongst the crowd could easily point to each national example as being cherry-picked, ignoring the realities on the ground in any given context. That is certainly a valid point and one that people are right to make: it’s a thought that is easier to reach for when you are presented with a character like Moore. It is also clear that each nation is not so homogenous and blissful in each area of their strengths that are shown. However, given the length of the film, it would be impossible to entertain a balanced debate on each example presented. It is not a film that is aiming to evaluate to that end, rather focusing on credit where credit is due, regardless of if there are some niggles in the overall framework. Moore’s zealous approach and character might make it seem like he is oblivious to the reality, yet I think it more of a glass-half-full scenario, and I think it is beneficial to view it in that way.
This comes to my next point, in that different audiences will receive this film in varying ways. For example, if you grew up in an EU context and had an interest in other nations, the nods to each nation’s differences may be strikingly obvious to you. If you grew up in a US context and have spent the majority of your life surrounded by their values and system, the film may be a little more confronting to you if you haven’t been exposed to the variance he discovers. As Moore plays a character that seems like they haven’t been exposed to these differences, it inherently appeals and is targeted to a home audience, ‘conquering’ the positive elements of each presented nation in order to make the USA great once again. This jingoism is a little overwhelming at times, but not an unsuspected companion to help him make his point. More often than not, the dialogues between the many people he interviews will certainly make you laugh.
[alert type=white ]The jingoism is a little overwhelming at times, but not an unsuspected companion to help him make his point. More often than not, the dialogues between the many people he interviews will certainly make you laugh.[/alert]
Finland makes an appearance, unsurprisingly offering Moore a different take on education. The former education minister, MP Krista Kiuru, and the principal of Hämeenkyrö school, Pasi Majasaari, are featured in the film, providing information on the education framework, alongside student and teacher interviews. Even though I have no experience of what it’s like to go through secondary education in Finland, I can imagine that his cuts present it even a just little more idealised than it should be, though it is certainly deserving of its continual, lofty praise. It’s good to keep in mind that this is a glass half-full production and that he makes valid points nonetheless.
[alert type=white ]Even though I have no experience of what it’s like to go through secondary education in Finland, I can imagine that his cuts present it even a just little more idealised than it should be[/alert]
Where to invade next is exactly that: an optimistic and timely reminder that there are a lot of good policies and ideas throughout the world, and that there is value in difference. There is no doubt that he paints the USA as an extremely troubled nation, and that many viewers (and nations) will echo his sentiment. He idealises other nations, yes, and there is an underlying element of ‘American greatness’ that has been lost and needs to be recovered. There are many details that people will dispute and dislike, but the point of this film is to let go, enjoy the good examples, some funny moments, and contemplate the differences in this showy production, which has been created to ignite discussion and thought. That is an admirable goal, even if Moore’s style is not your cup of tea.
‘Where to Invade Next’ opens in cinemas April 15.