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Review: Bowling for Columbine (2002)

Bowling for Columbine (2002)

Directed by: Michael Moore

Premise: A documentary about violence in American culture, using the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado to frame the issue.

What Works: Bowling for Columbine is a famous—and in some circles notorious—documentary film, largely because of the clout and controversy that director Michael Moore carries with his persona. The common perception of this film is that it is an anti-gun picture. But in fact, Bowling for Columbine is not really an anti-gun film, despite the fact that it does criticize the National Rifle Association and characterizes former NRA president Charlton Heston very callously. Bowling for Columbine is really about the culture of fear and violence in America and the cultural web of institutionalized fears about race and xenophobia amplified by scandalous media coverage and sustained cultural values of aggression and hostility. Beyond that, Bowling for Columbine connects the interpersonal violence with broader international violence that is perpetuated by American foreign policy decisions. By doing so, Bowling for Columbine is able to extrapolate a critical and insightful portrait of American culture. As a piece of argumentation, Moore smartly sets the film up as an investigation. Rather than starting with a definite thesis which is then supported by identifying evidence that confirms a preconceived notion, Bowling for Columbine identifies with the viewer’s more innocent position, takes them through a given explanation or excuse for violence, runs with it until reaching a dead end, and then redirects its focus. This organic quality allows the film to unravel its argument naturally and gives the viewer the experience of dissecting their own culture with the filmmaker. 

What Doesn’t: Although most of the film’s argumentation is sound, director Michael Moore is a little too quick to dismiss other explanations or sources of America’s violent tendencies. Namely, the film does not give enough credence to America’s history of imperialism or the way myths of masculinity and cultural imperialism have shaped our attitudes and actions. As it is, the documentary does cover a lot of ground and so an analysis of this particular facet of America’s sociological make up is a little too narrow for its broader focus.

DVD extras: Introduction by Michael Moore, commentary track, film festival montage, Marilyn Manson music video, teacher’s guide, photo gallery, featuretes, interviews, theatrical trailer.

Bottom Line: Bowling for Columbine is essential viewing for anyone with an interest in gun culture or American culture as a whole. The film represents a first step, as opposed to the last word, in a longer and broader discussion about the violence in America and it is an important piece of documentary filmmaking.

Episode: #346 (June 3, 2011)