Although at times it is as sloppy as Michael Moore’s appearance, Bowling for Columbine deserves all the attention it has received; if only because for two chilling and often humorous hours, it forces viewers to ponder one very important question: Why are so many Americans shooting each other?
Moore’s search for answers takes him on a trek from his home state of Michigan to Littleton, Colorado, site of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre. Along the way, Moore encounters a bizarre variety of characters, including: members of the infamous Michigan militia; James Nichols, wild-eyed older brother of Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols; NRA president Charlton Heston; and a Michigan teen who makes five-gallon drums of napalm in his spare time.
Moore also considers a number of arguments for America’s exceptionally high murder rate, including rock music, violent video games and movies, and the easy availability of guns. But none of these potential causal factors wholly explain the problem, because each factor is shared by most other Western countries, including Canada, which is depicted throughout the film (although not always accurately) as the “antithesis” of America.
It is not until Moore chats with none other than Marilyn Manson that he finds a potential answer. In a surprisingly eloquent speech, Manson states that the root of the problem is fear. Politicians, news organizations, and advertisers all strive to keep Americans in a perpetual state of fear. Why? “Because if you keep everyone afraid, they will consume.” And what do they consume? To quote Neo from The Matrix: “Guns—lots of guns.”
Moore’s attempt to flesh out this theory is powerful, largely because of the images he uses to support it, such as security camera footage from the Columbine massacre. But despite its emotional impact, his argument still rings hollow, because, among other things, it fails to account for several social factors that lead to violent crime. Nevertheless, it still beats the pathetic ramblings of Charlton Heston at the end of the film.
Bowling for Columbine does not score a strike, but it is definitely an earnest attempt to sort out a difficult problem. Perhaps it will inspire others more qualified to do the same.