In years to come, "Bowling for Columbine" should stand as a watermark
for how powerful and riveting a documentary film has the ability of
being. For acclaimed documentarian Michael Moore (1989's "Roger &
Me"), this is his greatest achievement, to date, as he takes a close-eyed,
merciless look at the gun violence and fear that has swept over the
United States. As usual, Moore has his own ideas and opinions, but
does not choose sides as much as he records both viewpoints.
What is certain is the major reason for why Moore decided the subject
was one worth delving into. At 6:00 a.m. on April 20, 1999, two high
school outcasts, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, went bowling in their
peaceful hometown of Littleton, Colorado. Only hours later, they entered
into Columbine High School and opened fire on their classmates and
teachers, creating a deadly bloodbath that ended with their own suicides.
This tragic event shook the nation, and everyone started pointing
figures and putting the blame on everything from the two teens' parents,
to the continuous taunting of their peers, to their easy access to
firearms, to violent movies, music, and video games. The simple fact
is no one knows why Klebold and Harris did what they did, nor are
we ever going to know for sure.
The same thing could be said, Michael Moore concludes, about why the
United States has the highest murder rate of any country, despite
just as easy access to guns in others parts of the world. In one year
alone in the U.S., there are over 11,000 acts of gun violence, while
in Canada, there aren't even 50. Taking a trip up to Canada, separated
from the U.S. only by a border, Moore interviews citizens and finds
that, despite just as many guns, the majority keep their doors unlocked
at night and are not driven by the kind of fear and desperation America is burdened with.
Moore also interviews a handful of celebrities, and their comments
are startlingly truthful and well-spoken. Matt Stone, co-creator of
"South Park," grew up in the town of Littleton, Colorado, and describes
it as a mundane, monotonously normal place to live. He says that from
an early age, kids are brainwashed by peers and elders into believing
that if they are not model students, they will never amount to anything.
He hypothesizes a valid possibility that Klebold and Harris were forced
into believing that they would always be nobodies, and finally just gave up.
Likewise, shock rocker Marilyn Manson, who was one of the big targets
following the Columbine massacre, finds it ridiculous that he is instantly
blamed for inspiring kids to be themselves while, on the day of the
shootings, Bill Clinton instructed the bombing of a foreign country
and was still viewed as an innocent. Manson's intelligent answer to
dealing with children grappling with serious problems in their lives? Listen to them.
"Bowling for Columbine" is absolutely rapturous cinema, a virtuoso
motion picture that is, at once, fascinating, informative, heartbreaking,
disturbing, and bitingly hilarious. Moore takes a sharply observed
satirical tone to much of the material, and the results are incendiary
in the way people's naivety and lack of answers can hold so much naivety
and humor. An animated interlude that very funnily and incisively
takes a look at the violent history of our country is a showstopper.
When it comes time to be serious, however, the film can elicit responsive
tearshed. This is no more true than in the shocking security camera
footage of the gun and bomb-carrying Klebold and Harris from within
Columbine High School during the fateful rampage. Also deeply felt
is the account of 6-year-old Kayla Rolland, who was shot and killed
by a 6-year-old classmate in Flint, Michigan on February 29, 2000--the
youngest school shooting on record. The young shooters source for
acquiring the gun? His uncle's house, where he had been staying while
his mother, a hardworking woman struggling to withhold a bogus work-for-welfare
program, was being evicted from her home.
An unexpected turn-of-events comes when Moore teams up with two surviving
victims of Columbine, both still carrying the bullets within their
bodies and one permanently paralyzed, to trek to K-Mart headquarters,
the company where the bullets were sold. After questioning why they
would still carry ammunition in their stores when they have long-since
stopped selling guns, they are speedily informed that the stores would
discontinue their selling of ammunition after a standard 90-day phase
out period. It is a small victory for Moore, who is dumbfounded by K-Mart's response.
The film leads up to an agreed interview between Moore and NRA advocate
Charlton Heston, who held controversial rallies in both Flint and
Littleton just days after both town's shooting tragedies. The confrontation
between the outspoken Moore, an NRA member himself, and Heston, an
apparent walking contradiction, is predictably edgy and ends on an
emotionally shattering note.
"Bowling for Columbine" is one of the year's biggest entertainments,
and one of its most thought-provoking. The mystery involving the overly
violent nature of America lives on, and what director Michael Moore
discovers is that there isn't a concrete conclusion to be possibly
drawn. Why is it that any U.S. citizens can personally own handguns
just as easily as hunting rifles? Nobody, it seems, can find a valid
reason for their purpose aside from as a gateway to further violence.
"Bowling for Columbine" isn't just a highly recommended accomplishment;
it deserves to be required viewing.
Copyright © 2002 Dustin Putman