Michael Moore the filmmaker and political activist is back with a new feature, WHERE TO INVADE NEXT. Moore’s fictional premise is that he has been approached by America’s Joint Chiefs of Staff to work out why their nation hasn’t won a war since WW2. He takes it upon himself to travel across the world “invading” countries and “stealing” their best ideas to take them back the US. In practice, he visits a number of predominately European nations to investigate the way their employment, health care and education systems work, to name but three blockbuster societal arrangements. He suggests those darned Europeans are getting better productivity and happiness with their revolutionary ideas. All of which swims against the powerful notions of American exceptionalism and manifest destiny; if one believes in the American Dream, how can any other nation possibly have better ideas than the greatest nation on Earth?
This is exactly where Moore is a provocateur and irritant to many of his fellow Americans. The questions he poses are unsettling. More than anything, his leftist populism is a direct criticism of Wall Street and all the politicians who do the bidding of corporate America. He has held this position since his breakthrough movie ROGER & ME (1989) in which he questioned the economic and social effects of automobile plant closures on his hometown, Flint, Michigan. His subsequent television work, TV Nation (1994) and The Awful Truth (1999) was in a similar vein and it could be argued this work was the radioactive spider bite that led to the political satire of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, This Week Tonight with John Oliver and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.
WHERE TO INVADE NEXT is being touted as somewhat of a comeback for Moore. He is definitely more optimistic here as he searches for answers to America’s problems. His award winning features BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE (2002) and FARHENHEIT 9/11 (2004) are darker and angrier films. Which isn’t to say Moore’s new movie doesn’t examine some of the darker parts of US history, but generally the tone is upbeat and comedic.
Moore seems to be doing his own Bernie Sanders act. In continuing to be who he is, it appears his political ideas are now attractive to many in the post Global Financial Crisis/Occupy generation. If you are the sort of person who believes there is a 1% who own all the wealth and are destroying democracy, then you will probably get behind Moore and his worldview. I will surprise no one by observing this is not a film for political conservatives and will go against everything you hold dear. Although I am largely in agreement with Moore’s argument that we should strive to create a more equal society, his omissions and manipulations are glaringly obvious at times. Even the most pro-Moore viewer will wonder about the one-sidedly rosy picture he paints of some of the nations he “invades”.
The film clocks in at whopping two hours. Television would be a better platform for a project of this length, however Moore obviously knows what works best for him economically. The movie is thought-provoking and although it is aimed specifically at the USA, our own nation is often influenced by American systems. In asking how some of these ideas would work in the American context, we can also ask the same of our own country.