Despite its seemingly provocative title, Michael Moore’s latest documentary, Where to Invade Next, is maybe the most deceptively innocuous piece he’s released to date. Instead of following the right-on crusader around Washington pondering who’s next on the spinning wheel of American adventurism, the film sees Moore traverse through Europe and listen to the various amenities, “free” education, drugs rehabilitation, maternity leave and so on, that the union has to offer. Though watching Moore get patronisingly doe-eyed at seemingly every interview does eventually get at little bit galling, Where to Invade Next does become one of the most informative documentaries Moore has made yet, as well as one of the most consistently factual, which is, in Moore’s case, a milestone.
A massive criticism that can be levied at Michael Moore is that, oftentimes, he’s a filmmaker first and a documentarian second. Obviously it opens up an entirely new question to wonder as to whether any documentary is entirely objective, but Moore is particularly guilty of manipulating perspective to create a certain narrative. There’s no denying that sometimes this absolutely works for the films he’s producing. Bowling for Columbine, he’s best feature yet, leaves one with the impression that the arms industry has infiltrated every aspect of American life, that Marilyn Manson is subject to an Orwellian-esque two minutes of hate every day and that buying a gun is as easy, or indeed easier, than purchasing condoms or cigarettes. Further research reveals that this is only true for a certain part of American society, but it’s easy to give Moore a pass because the film ends up being so engaging and exposing of the absurdism that surrounds American gun ownership.
Likewise, Sicko contrasts that American neo-liberalist attitude toward health care with the British National Health Service. The same NHS that went on strike a few weeks ago is presented as being quasi-utopian, again a piece of misinformation on Moore’s behalf, but one that you feel obliged to let him get away with because the contrast again reveals the utter insanity of America’s healthcare system. At times though, Moore’s mistruths can be downright idiotic, and his personal bias completely defeats any narrative that he attempts to peddle. Though Fahrenheit 9/11 has its heart in the right place, it ends up attempting an ugly and misguided character assassination of George W. Bush (a man ripe for criticism, so it’s a shame Moore ignores facts for personal distaste) and makes some fairly bizarre, crackpot theories, about the attack on the World Trade Centre, surely placing it amid the most embarrassing Palm D’or winners. In this regard, Where to Invade Next, shows vast improvements.
Manipulation of facts is quite present in Where to Invade Next, but not too the drastic degree of his previous work. Mostly, he has a tendency to ignore certain aspects of a nation that might not reflect their otherwise excellent social services. In Italy, for example, he praises the eight week paid holidays and maternity leave, whilst ignoring the systematic inequality between the country’s north and south and the almost comedic corruption of government. Ireland is listed on as one of the nations that provides free university education, again ignoring the ever increasing registration fees which prove to be a barrier for many. These discrepancies will prove trying for many, but Moore does go to efforts to redeem himself at a number of points during the film. About halfway into the film Moore examines the justice system in Scandinavia, Germany and Austria, examining the tolerance of the police and the prison system. Just as his fawning was about lose me, largely because he seemed to ignore the rise of far-right politics in these states, he delved headfirst into a study of Anders Brevik and the atrocity that he carried out in 2011. This proves to be one of the most well rounded aspects of the film, and indeed seems as though Moore is finally getting over his problem of ignoring something that seems to contradict to his narrative. While the film offers no further exploration of the far-right’s growing popularity in Europe, the study of Brevik is an admirable part of the film.
Where to Invade Next was probably produced before Europe’s migrant crisis reached the state it is in now, so I’d be fairly willing to let Moore off the hook for not covering it. Elsewhere, his study of the Arab Spring and its impact on Tunisia (stretching the boundaries of Europe sure, but if Australia can compete in the song contest…) is quite illuminating, revealing that even amid a Muslim controlled parliament, classical ideas of Euro liberalism can survive, and even sees women ascend to some of the top political positions in the state. I was entirely ignorant about this, and even after my own research into the subject Moore’s presentations hold up, a testament to the power of European ideals. The Tunisian segment contains the best interview of the film, with a journalist who covered the Arab Spring, who urges Americans to ignore the pitfalls of reality television and junk food and embrace new ideas and concepts from around the world. In many ways, that encapsulates the purpose of this documentary.
Early on in Where to Invade Next, Moore openly states that he wants to pick the flowers, and not the weeds from Europe. Again this is a conceit that some people simply won’t be able to overcome, but ultimately the film succeeds in showing the triumphs of Europe. It’s interesting that such a film comes out as the UK heads to the voting booth to decide its future in the EU, and additionally, Where to Invade Next goes to some length to explain the snarling American id that has come to the forefront this election season.
Where to Invade Next is in selected cinemas from Friday June 10th and Michael Moore himself will be attending a screening on Monday June 13th in the IFI for a Q&A – more info here. Check out the trailer below.
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