By: Muneeb Arshid
Whether it’s Bowling for Columbine or Fahrenheit 9/11 or any other Michael Moore documentary, you know full well that his documentary will be heavily political and will divide audiences in terms of their political views and their theatre enjoyment. Moore’s latest political endeavour, Where to Invade Next, may actually be one of his least political films, regardless of what the title might suggest.
Where to Invade Next is Moore’s attempt to “invade” European countries to take back ideas to the States that could be used to better society. Moore visits Italy (Vacation Days), Norway (Prison System), Finland and Slovenia (Education), France (School Lunches), Portugal (War on Drugs or lack thereof) and a few other countries in between. He examines how countries in Europe supposedly have far superior systems in place regarding a plethora of societal issues in comparison to the United States. Admittedly, it is a view that is quite one-sided, but if you’re watching a Michael Moore expecting a bipartisan documentary, then his films are the wrong type for you. What Moore has done with this documentary is provide a comedic tone for the film and present all these cases from a light-hearted perspective wherein he speaks to locals and professionals trying to determine why certain policies have worked in Europe and not in the United States.
However, my claim that Where to Invade Next may be “Moore’s least political feature” might be a bit short-sighted. Even though he might not be talking about specific American policy and basing his documentary on the United States itself, he’s done something where he’s gone to countries where policies like the education system or the labour system have worked far better than they have in the United States, especially in the recent past. He then allows the viewer to make their own interpretations as they see fit, maybe based on their own political views or their social views, etc. What he hasn’t done is forcefully push a”liberal” agenda (however much it may seem he has in previous films); rather, he uses facts to solidify his claims of European countries faring far better in aspects than Canada’s neighbours to the South. Has he gotten his point across? I definitely think so. If not a complete point, then Moore will almost certainly plant at least a seed of doubt in every viewer’s mind that things are not as peachy in America as many claim.
In regards to my point of this being Moore’s least political film, this is more apparent when comparing with the rest of his filmography. Films such as Fahrenheit 9/11 and especially Bowling for Columbine which specifically had to deal with issues like the 2nd amendment because of the nature of the subject matter were more political by their very nature. In Where to Invade Next, Moore takes a macro-level look at some of the social and judicial problems that can certainly be rectified in America but are being overlooked due to a multitude of reasons, with politics playing a role but not as emphasized as is the norm for his films.
However, since we’re speaking of Michael Moore here, we would not be doing our job as critics correctly if we did not discuss the politics of the movie. It’s par for the course for a Moore film, where his direction is taken with a liberal grain of salt. For many people nowadays, being called “liberal” may be seen as a slight against their character or political beliefs. But if there’s one surety with a Michael Moore documentary, it’s the fact that what we’re going to see is a politically “left” heavy film. That is exactly what we see here in Where to Invade Next, with facts being strewn around that are somewhat”left” leaning. That’s not to say that the facts that Moore uses to back his claims aren’t true; rather, his claims could have gained considerably greater credibility had he taken a far more bipartisan approach in presenting the myriad of issues. Case in point: Moore visits Finland and examines an education system which does not give out homework to its students; he then travels to Slovenia where university is free to all students, domestic or international. His purpose is to try and determine whether these and other policies would work for America since current policies don’t really seem to be working, especially in regards to education. However, his whole purpose ends up being: “does this policy work in Europe? Yes? Well, it’ll probably work in America then.” Ideally, that would be great, but in reality, the makeup of the countries wouldn’t necessarily work when comparing the comparatively homogenous and sizeably smaller European countries with the melting pot of diversity and vast amounts of people that is the United States of America. There is so much more diversity in the makeup of America, in terms of its divide between the rich and the poor as well as the sheer size of the country where circumstances are different from one state and one city to another.
There’s one other problem the documentary struggles with -especially in the third act of the film- and that is the tone. For the first two acts, Moore visits many European nations, each championing their own political system and societal set-up, but attempts to keep the visit as jovial and comedic as possible. He interacts with not just the general public of the countries in question but also significant members of the respective system under the spotlight (i.e., Moore visits a high school in Finland and speaks to students but also administration). Moore visits Iceland in the third act where he spends a good chunk of time speaking to female CEOs who were and continue to be essential for the renewed prosperity of Iceland since the economic meltdown of 2008. The piece changes to a much more serious tone looking to divert blame somewhere and was the one point where it actually felt Moore was trying to pass along a political agenda. This is much more an inconsistency for the film, not a slight against it, but it is a point which becomes quite obviously political and seems out of place in a documentary that was unusually “political, but not political,” if that tagline makes sense.
Six years after his previous documentary, aptly named Capitalism: A Love Story, Michael Moore gives us his take on the affairs of America and what he would do to try and rectify the problems in the good ol’ U.S. of A. It’s an admittedly one-sided view as to which policies he would bring back to the USA for adoption, which ultimately weakens his point since America is a markedly different place than the majority of Europe. However, he does get his point across and is a very well made documentary which allows me to grace Where to Invade Next with a grade of B+ (8.1/10).