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Fahrenheit 11/9 (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jun 11, 2023

Fahrenheit 11/9

FAHRENHEIT 11/9 (2018)

Featuring Michael Moore, Senator Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, David Hogg, Emma González, John Podesta, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, Ben Ferencz, Krystal Ball, Roger Stone and archival footage of Donald Trump, Rick Snyder, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton.

Directed by Michael Moore.

Distributed by Briarcliff Entertainment. 120 minutes. Not Rated.

Early on in Michael Moore’s latest film, he asks a simple, exasperated question: “How the fuck did we get here?”

He’s not the only person asking that question. Nearly two years into the presidency* of Donald J. Trump, and less than two months away from a mid-term election which can lead to a blue wave, but which just as easily could lead to two more years of unfettered corruption, Moore is putting out his latest film to rouse a complacent citizenry to the polls. (Honestly, Moore’s track record for that isn’t great – Fahrenheit 9/11 came out right before a George W. Bush reelection, and Michael Moore in Trumpland certainly didn’t have the desired effect.)

However, Fahrenheit 11/9 is Moore’s most passionate, human and deepest film yet. And his most desperate. And, frankly, his most scattered. It is nothing less than an attempt to save democracy in the United States. It is an attempt to expose a morass that has been growing on the country for over forty years but has exploded in the last two. A willful ignorance, a deep political divide, an unwillingness to compromise, the feeling that spite is more important than progress.

Trump is a symptom of the dumbing down of America.

But he is more, too, Moore argues. He is a symptom of Michigan governor Rick Snyder – and the fact that he is not in jail. In fact, Snyder has prospered for blatantly violating the law, committing a coup d’etat under the name of some unknown “state of emergency,” tossing the rightfully elected government officials from their posts in four of Michigan’s largest cities (all majority black communities). And Snyder poisoned an entire city, simply to create unnecessary jobs for his rich cronies.

It’s this kind of flagrant abuse of power, Moore suggests, that really led to the daily manipulations we see in the Trump administration. Snyder ran Michigan like a corrupt CEO – and fucked over his constituents. Not merely stole from them, but literally caused a health emergency, one that he covered up and still downplays to this day. All so that Michigan could get a new pipeline that it did not need. And so that the governor’s fat-cat friends would get some hefty government contracts.

And Snyder got away with it all.

Enough of this dumb shit about a businessman being what government needs. Government and business are two very different things. Business is always married to the bottom line, making money. A government can’t be run that way. A government is supposed to be about serving the people.

Donald Trump’s government is all about serving Donald J. Trump.

Moore is courting controversy here a bit. A sequence which blatantly compares Trump to a young Adolf Hitler may be a bridge too far for some people. However, Moore makes his points cogently, not just going for sensationalism. He shows how Germany was an enlightened, progressive nation before a little-known politician named Hitler was voted in – in the minority – and used trumped-up (pun intended) rhetoric to seize more and more power. In fact, Moore gets the last surviving investigator of Nazi war crimes, 98-year-old Ben Ferencz, to document how Trump is following the tyrannical dictator playbook to a tee.

In fact, in Fahrenheit 11/9, Trump does not come off as an unprincipled goofball like George W. Bush did in Moore’s sister film Fahrenheit 9/11. No, Trump is the bogeyman in this story, a looming force of evil unleashed upon the United States electorate due to greed, partisanship, bigotry and apathy.

However, Moore isn’t just tying the problems to Trump and Snyder. He also takes his share of potshots at Democratic presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Even when the criticisms are certainly deserved – like showing how Obama totally dropped the ball when he visited Flint during the water crisis – they do always not take the bigger picture into consideration. Of course, Obama and Clinton made mistakes – some massive ones. However, they did not actively try to sabotage democracy.

Moore even spends a section of the film trying to relitigate the whole “Bernie Sanders got robbed” argument, a dispute which has been pretty thoroughly debunked. Hillary Clinton would have won the Democratic nomination with or without the superdelegates. Sanders – who I like, by the way – simply didn’t have enough votes.

However, if he has no time for old-school politics, Moore is in love with the new guard. New faces like the kids who survived the shootings at Parkland High School and realized they had the responsibility to stand up for their fallen classmates and turned it into a political revolution. People like the West Virginia school teachers who refused to bow to pressure from the state, the schools, even their own unions, to stand up to make a living wage – not just for them, but for all school employees. A new breed of politician like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, who were woke in the world of protest and decided they could do more good from the inside than from standing on the sidelines.

It is in scenes like these, showing the resilience and fight of the American people, that Fahrenheit 11/9 works best.

Fahrenheit 11/9 does not always work as a film – in fact it is Moore’s most unfocused film since Capitalism: A Love Story about a decade ago. He doesn’t really even bother to try to reach across the aisle, which he sometimes does. Also, he reserves some of the hardest rebukes for the Democratic Party, which is supposed to be his base. Like in Capitalism, he has a tendency to slightly romanticize socialism and would rather blow everything up than fix the problems, which is pretty much the same mindset that got us Trump in the first place.

However, the passion and desperation that he so obviously feels – that the country obviously feels – is palpable. Democracy is at a turning point, and Fahrenheit 11/9 is a bracing call to arms, beseeching for the American people to rise up and do the right thing before it is too late. And, Moore insists, it is later than most people think.

Fahrenheit 11/9 is a depressing film, but it is an eye-opening, often funny and ultimately hopeful one. It is a rage against the machine, an attempt to get the American people to fight back and take back their rights. Mostly it begs us to get involved – run for office, volunteer to work on phone banks, go to town councils, even as simple a thing as just go down and vote. (Moore points out that over 100 million people in the US did not vote in 2016, nearly as many as voted for Clinton and Trump combined.)

Democracy is a fragile thing, and if we don’t care for it, we can easily lose it.

How the fuck did we get here, indeed?

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2018 All rights reserved. Posted: September 21, 2018.


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