Recently, I watched Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 for the first time. I’ve sighted this doco at the video shop before, back when renting DVD’s was still the norm. However, documentary filmmaking did not hold my attention in those days. Released in ’04 during the height of the Iraq War, 9/11 is noted for being the highest-grossing doco of all time. Raking in $122 M at the box office, it is almost $50 M clear of the second-placer. Furthermore, 9/11 garnered the Palm D’or gong at Cannes, awarded annually for the best film screened at the Festival. This is in addition to the Oscar which Moore won for his work a year prior.
All these accolades would indicate a riveting watch. On the other hand, one would wonder if the picture is still relevant. After all, it’s been fifteen years and the Iraq War and George Bush have long disappeared. However, we can learn a lot from retro films – especially those that a guru like Moore has produced. The sombre tone of the movie reminded me a little of The Untold History of U.S. Moore expertly laces army, war, and rally footage with his own interviews of involved subjects. From the bereaved to soldiers, army recruiters to bureaucrats, Congressmen to protesters, there is never a scarcity of intriguing players. The action unfolds in real time and we are aboard as the Secret Service questions Moore in front of the Saudi embassy.
Like Untold, 9/11 aims to bring a long-running conspiracy to the fore. Though one sided in its rhetoric, Fahrenheit delivers its message, dropping a few bombs along the way. The scam of the Iraq War is Moore’s biggest missile. Rather than viewing the invasion as a response to 9/11, Moore advances that the war is the elite’s narcissist and greedy manoeuvre. Moore shows collusion at the highest levels and how Iraq’s oil reserves prompted the American invasion. As one Gordon Babbitt put it, ‘there’s no area for business as Iraq’. The filmmaker uncovers that the government’s tough stance against state-sponsored terror was all a show. For instance, the White House offered no explanation as to why over a hundred Saudis jetted out of the US two days after 9/11. As one pessimist maintained, they deserved to be questioned at the very least.
Moore shows that we cannot trust our leaders. From the outset, he proposes the dodgy 2000 election result as exhibit-A. He focuses on the Florida outcome where Bush claims a dubious victory. He also shows how Bush practically took a five-month break to rehabilitate his image. Bush overlooked more pressing concerns which may have prevented the 9/11 attacks. Despite the War being a farce, the Army needed more lives to waste. They may have been 120,000-strong but must have been thrice as large. So, they sent officers on recruiting trips across the country. They promised hopes of a better life and went to poorer communities in particular, such as Lansing (Moore’s hometown). They swore that the new recruits would serve in America, but they were often the first ones sent to the battle zone. Bush also extended the so-called Coalition of the Willing, which included countries like Costa Rica and Morocco. This was all a ruse to justify the need for more Yankees in combat, as these states had marginal armies – if at all.
Where are the weapons?
Moore asks a lot of questions and he doesn’t discriminate. He heard that only one son out of two hundred Representatives was stationed in Iraq. He then set up outside Congress and tried to sell Iraq incursions to lawmakers. The Solons were dismissive. Speaking of Congress, they passed the Patriot Act without actually reading the bill. When questioned about this, they suggested that it was too much trouble. Moore instead resorted to reading the bill out loud outside the House. He seeks the family of the fallen warriors and shares their grief with the world. He even interviews some returned soldiers, reliving the horrors of war. At one point, he attends a nondescript, informal peace club that was an unwitting victim in the War. Early on, Moore showcased the injustice of government regulation, especially in what you can and cannot bring on planes. The director asserted that the government was sending the wrong memo. In the end, one older lady verbalised what everyone was thinking: ‘Where are the weapons of mass destruction?’
Moore ends his film with two terrific quotes, including one by Orwell. The late atheist Christopher Hitchens has interpreted the 1984 quote as equating America with terrorists, the Taliban and jihadists. Others have posited Moore’s film as riddled with lies and half-truths, with little facts in between. I must admit that the movie never presents a balanced view and is clearly an anti-Bush campaign. You would really hate the portrayal if you were a Republican. Regardless, the doco was not only a ringing commercial success but critics likewise adored it upon release. Despite the touchy subject matter and some predictable backlash, the film is often cited as one of the best documentaries ever made. There is no doubt that, while the war is over, Fahrenheit is a relic that holds some important lessons. Fifteen years later, and with the video stores long gone, the message remains strong.