Fahrenheit 11/9: A much-needed bucket of cold water
04 October 2018 08:34
Michael Moore is the perfect film-maker to capture the truth about Donald Trump: brash, demotic, lurid, uncompromising and a native son of the flyover states that rejected Hillary Clinton in the presidential race of 2016.
The title of Fahrenheit 11/9, which goes on general release in the UK on 19 October, is likely to confuse British moviegoers – referring, as it does, to the day after the election (9 November), rendered in American style, with the month first. Clear? Good.
Aside from that minor opacity, Moore’s film could scarcely be more vivid in its brush-strokes. Borrowing the theme music from the The Omen (Richard Donner, 1976), he frames Trump’s victory as a sort of demonic birth – but, crucially, one that he himself foresaw.
For decades, this child of Flint, Michigan, has warned of the neglect into which great swathes of America were falling, and what he regards as the complicity of the sell-out Democratic party establishment in Republican appeasement of big business. So: Bernie Sanders good, Hillary bad. Even Barack Obama gets it in the neck for failing to sock it to the corporate-political complex.
Some parts of the movie do it little service. Moore’s heavy implication that Trump has had an abusive incestuous relationship with his daughter Ivanka is really no more than an assertion based upon his (undoubtedly base) language and conduct in her presence: it is intended to shore up the charge that the President is the devil-incarnate, but feels forced, an unsubstantiated distraction from the film’s main themes.
Ditto Moore’s explicit comparison of the burning down of the Reichstag in 1933 to the 11 September attacks: the director’s point being that autocratic regimes abuse such horrors to constrain liberty. But is he suggesting, like a log-cabin conspiracist, that 9/11 was an inside job? Come on, Michael.
Otherwise, the film is excellent. Just when you think you are in for two hours of pleasurable but predictable Trump-bashing, Fahrenheit 11/9 takes a very unexpected turn. Returning, as he so often does, to his home town of Flint, Michigan, Moore presents Governor Rick Snyder’s deplorable handling of a water-poisoning crisis (the consequence of his own policies) as a trial run for Trump’s presidency: a deeply immoral businessman allowing mostly African-American citizens to suffer so that the corporations might prosper.
On the upside, Moore explores the mobilisation of insurgent activism that Trump has inadvertently inspired (a phenomenon that we at DRUGSTORE CULTURE find compelling and shall cover in-depth in the months to come). From the teen Parkland shooting survivors to anti-establishment congressional candidates such as Rashida Tlaib (Michigan), Michael A. Hepburn (Florida) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (New York), he correctly detects a movement-in-the-making. The President has played unwitting midwife to this fledgling resistance but, as one of the Parkland activists says, ‘social media raised us’. Like Trump, they are surfing the digital revolution.
Moore’s conclusions – that US democracy is in grave peril – will, I suspect, strike some as overblown, especially in his invocation of Nazi Germany. But it felt like a much-needed bucket of cold water to me.
Every day, Trump shows that he is indifferent to the constitution, to press freedom, to common decency – witness, most recently, his unspeakable mockery of Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony against his supreme court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. It does no harm at all to be reminded that the German middle-class believed that Hitler could be tamed, controlled, normalised.
Especially powerful in this regard is the disbelief of Ben Ferencz, the 99-year-old Hungarian-American lawyer who was a prosecutor at Nuremberg, that so much history has been forgotten. It remains to be seen whether there will be a great civic uprising of the sort that Moore seeks to inspire. But he cannot be faulted for saying that the times demand nothing less.