Where to Invade Next?
Here is progressive hero Michael Moore's latest film "Where to Invade Next?", his first documentary in six years. Thankfully, the iconic filmmaker has retained his sting and jab. In this outing, which was apparently produced in secret, Moore playfully suggests that several Joint Chiefs of Staff have sent for him asking, essentially, "How can the United States do better?"
The director has an idea: he will travel across Europe, invade countries that "he can pronounce" and take what can be used to improve America. This sends Moore on a picaresque and colorful odyssey.
Moore than goes to France to see one of the poorest middle schools in the region. The children are given earthy nutritious meals while encouraged to eat green vegetables and there is always cheese. The school chef admits to feeling sorry for American kids. We see their lunch or what passes for it, often a thick brown mass of unidentifiable origin. One kid exclaims "That's a bizarre sauce."
Schools in Finland are more at ease too. There are no standardized testing and precious little homework. Students are free to learn on their own.
Moore visits a Norwegian prison. The inmates are well cared for with clean rooms, a flat screen tv and their own bathrooms. They are not stabbed, pushed threatened by violence, or in fear. The prisoners are treated humanely with respect. The maximum sentence for any crime, even murder, is 21 years. Where we have a repeated incarceration rate of near 80% , Sweden has a mere 20% and if the inmate is a felon, he is still able to vote. The aim is for rehabilitation and self worth in the face of a criminal past.
While this is the director's most breezy and episodic film, it is also scorching and serious in talking about the drug war as a way to insidious supression of the black vote and black power.
As Moore says, "America was built on the backs of slavery and genocide..." Squeamish and uncomfortable this is to hear but horribly, quite true. The stills of Nazi era signs combined with American pre-Civil Rights signs marking "Coloreds Only" remain shocking, depressing, yet striking reminders that the USA is not exceptional or immune to the toxins of hatred and bigotry.
Aside from this honest lashing, the provocateur keeps the tone light in saying that with enough passionate action, we can do the right thing and treat our citizens with respect and equality. Moore interviews several women in the Iceland parliment and they are bouyant and wise. These woman seem indeed, as though they can change the world for the better.
Another vivid interlude is the auteur's travels to Tunisia, where he learns that a female reporter was able to turn things less fundamentalist.
Though Moore may be a good deal less scathing or pointedly outrageous throughout as he was in "Farenheit 911," it does bouy the spirit to see him, wrapped in Old Glory as he treads hopefully from one country to the next on a mission of not war but information.
The best scenes are the ones where Moore finds out something quite positive and cheerful (e.g. a Finnish math teacher who first asks for his students to be happy or when a CEO says that the most important thing is that her employees are healthy) and the director is left speechless.
The ultimate surprise of the film though, is not a quiter more wistful Michael Moore, but rather that paid vacations with saner prisons, schools and civilized working conditions are originally American concepts, started from our forefathers and unions.
In watching "Where to Invade Next?" there is no country we can go to for an antidote.
As always, we can and often do, create the society that we want.