Review: Where to Invade Next
Director: Michael Moore
By Rhys Tarling
Documentaries, or more specifically Michael Moore documentaries, are peculiar experiences. His films are laden with facts – shocking, gasp-inducing facts at that, yet there’s an ever present awareness that you’re being emotionally manipulated in the most unsubtle ways imaginable. Whether this is a product of Moore being a populist Hollywood salesman, or knowing provocation is up for debate. There’s no denying the filmic craft on display because Where To Invade Next? is ceaselessly entertaining and without an ounce of fat.
The film positions a gamely Michael Moore playing the part of every basic persons imagination of what a schlubbly, ignorant American is like. The reason this savvy filmmaker is playing such a part is to be a stand in for the incredulous, American audience on Western Europe’s unions, education system, prison system, and justice system.
The conceit here is that instead of invading these countries with the might of the US military, as the US is wont to do, Michael Moore will peacefully borrow their ideas in order to better a currently broken, middle class-less America.
If you’ve seen Fahrenheit 9/11 and are aware of its schticks (percussive editing reminiscent of 90s MTV music videos, pop rock Americana songs blaring over horrific images for the sake of irony, and a technically perfect alchemy of humour, horror, and education) then Where To Invade Next? is comfortably familiar viewing.
His message is communicated so broadly and simply that it’s quite difficult to take at face value because one can’t help but wonder, “is the world really as simple as this documentary is insisting it is?” It comes off as blatantly binary at times. There is but one throw away line that lays bare Moore’s agenda – when he’s visiting Italy and says “sure Italy has its problems, but I’m here to pick the flowers, not the weeds” as if to assure the critically minded viewer that “look, it’s entertainment, okay? Entertainment.” It’s an easily missed line. It would be fair to say that it was a line that was grudgingly thrown in there.
And I’ll be damned if it isn’t entertaining because it’s the funniest, most visually resplendent, and informative travelogue I’ve seen, particularly in regards to Norway’s prison system. That segment works in all the ways I suspect that Moore intended for it to work – hilarious, surprising, and sort of heartbreaking when you consider the US’s (and by extent, I suppose Australia’s) notions of prison and what it should mean.
On a pure technical and entertainment context, I recommend this film with the caveat that it is as purposefully constructed and truthful as the most melodramatic Hollywood film you’ve ever seen. Documentaries are a construction of a kind of reality as much as any work of fiction is, but this film does, one can only say “shamelessly”, lay bare that construction.
If we sift through the manipulations and go a little deeper with this documentarian’s intentions, what can be said about him? We can say that Michael Moore is an American and that he wants better for America. That is the truth worth clinging to when viewing Where To Invade Next?