Good news for those who missed Michael Moore's "Bowling for Columbine" documentary—about violence in America—in theaters: It's now on DVD and VHS, and the special features on the former are terrific.
Moore, for those who don't know or remember, is the gentleman who accepted his Best Documentary Oscar in March by saying he liked non-fiction because "we live in fictitious times."
"We live in the time where we have fictitious election results that elect a fictitious president," he continued. "We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons."
His Oscar-night comments aside (which he defends in one of the special features), the film itself is a thought-provoking bit of American culture analysis.
Moore uses interviews with NRA President Charlton Heston, shock-rocker Marilyn Manson and others to explore why Americans may be more violent than citizens of other countries, including those countries with a proportionately high number of firearms.
Moore is not a detached documentarian. Rather, he places himself in the midst of his story, narrating it and appearing in it as he sees fit. So, for example, instead of just talking to kids wounded in the Columbine shootings, he joins forces with them to persuade K-Mart to stop selling ammunition.
Moore hangs out with the Michigan militia. He opens an account at a Michigan bank in order to get the gun it advertises as a free gift. He sits down with James Nichols, brother of Terry Nichols (Timothy McVeigh's partner), and talks about the constitutional limits of weapons-grade plutonium for individuals.
When Moore turns up too few answers in the United States, he heads north—to Canada—for enlightenment. He finds not only a country of gun lovers, but also a country that, he says, isn't dominated by fear. And that's where America stands out.
Whether viewers agree with Moore's conclusions, they are sure to be engaged by his style and his stance. And those interviews with Heston and Manson are chilling in different ways.
For all of Moore's insights, there's one American strand that he gives little attention: religion. He touches on our religious zeal and influence in a hilarious animated segment that aims to boil American history down into a couple of minutes. But other than that, the role of religion in violent cultures finds little treatment in the film.
However, the DVD's special features shed more light not only on this topic generally, but they also reveal a Michael Moore in touch with Scripture.
For example, the DVD includes an appearance Moore made at the University of Denver in February 2003. Moore begins by talking politics in a way certain to ruffle Republican feathers, but he also references the Bible:
"I was raised in an Irish-Catholic family, and I wonder sometimes who this God is that Mr. Bush and Mr. Ashcroft and Mr. Cheney invoke as they attempt to lead us to war, as they attempt to convince the American public that that American dream is still for them. Who is this God that they invoke? Because the one that I was taught about said that we will be judged by how we treat the least among us. Right? What happened to that story? Was that not taught in their Sunday school? I was taught that a rich man will have a harder time getting into heaven than a camel will have passing through the eye of a needle? Isn't that in there somewhere?"
Moore reiterated the theme of caring for "the least of these" when he appeared on "The Charlie Rose Show," which is also included on the DVD.
Other special features include: Moore ruminating on his Oscar win (footage of which isn't included because the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences refused to give Moore permission); a Marilyn Manson video; "Mike's Action Guide" for getting involved politically; a teacher's guide for using the film in classes; and much more.
The teacher's guide may also be downloaded as 60-page PDF. It aims to teach critical thinking skills and historical analysis. It includes vocabulary lists, essay topics, discussion starters on the role of media and other activities.
The guide, like the documentary itself, is well done and worth checking out.
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
Visit the documentary's Web site.
MPAA Rating: R for some violent images and language
Director: Michael Moore
Writer: Michael Moore