Taking Aim

Filmmaker Michael Moore loves to pick at the sores of America's self-delusions, and he's really good at it. This wonderfully unsettling gift makes him one of our best truth-tellers, and with his latest documentary, Bowling for Columbine, it's gratifying to note that his harshest cultural critique to date has also become his most commercially successful.

Moore takes on our gun-happy culture, along with race, class, gender, and all the other nouns Americans handle so badly. In his view, the most powerful nation on earth is inhabited by people whose deepening sense of fear has left them feeling powerless. America makes more weapons of mass destruction than any other country and—by pure coincidence?—has the highest murder rate in the world. Because of violence-obsessed media and government-institutionalized fear-mongering, we are a hair-trigger nation, with lots of triggers to go around.

The film begins with Moore opening an account at a Michigan bank that offers a free gun to every new customer. As a smiling bank employee pages through a catalog of big guns, he's pleasantly oblivious to the preposterous transaction and, once again, it's up to Moore to reveal the irony. Through interviews with militiamen on "patrol," gun-show salesmen, weapons makers, and even the National Rifle Association's chief apologist (Charlton Heston in his well-armed, gated Hollywood home), Moore reminds us that we just don't get it. Guns and other weapons are a principality of evil, and in the hands of fearful people they are destined to be used. Just as cigarettes are the ultimate self-delusion for feeling cool, guns are the accepted lie for feeling secure. In the end both kill, and nothing more.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 2003
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