There has never been a movie as simultaneously moving and funny as Bowling for Columbine. Political activist Michael Moore leads the way, on and off camera, in this documentary, which confronts violence in America and gun control.
Moore gained notoriety for his low budget 1989 documentary Roger & Me, investigating the damage General Motors CEO Roger Smith caused to Moore’s hometown of Flint, Michigan, through his company’s mass downsizing. This time around, Moore takes on an issue that hits closer to home for all of us.
The reason why Bowling for Columbine is so effective is that it perfectly mixes shocking information about gun violence with Moore’s sarcastic sense of humor. Moore is a workingman’s idealist who finds something he wants changed and does everything possible to change it. But in the process, he’s not afraid to make fun of himself, the American public and various political figures.
In Bowling for Columbine, Moore goes beyond a standard gun control debate and examines not why Americans have guns, but why they use them for violence. He finds that Canada has a comparably large artillery, yet its citizens are not afraid to leave their doors unlocked or to walk home in the dark.
Moore’s sense of humor shines when he finds out about the unlocked door trend in Canada. He walks up and down the street, swinging open doors and greeting the people inside. “Thanks for not shooting me,” he quips as he leaves one startled man’s home.
A specifically touching moment is when Moore pairs with two young men injured in the notorious shooting at Columbine High School. He finds that the bullets used in the shooting, some of which are still lodged in their bodies, were bought from K-Mart for 17 cents each. He then takes a trip with the victims to K-Mart’s headquarters, where they try to talk to a supervisor.
After being turned away by person after person, the trio gets discouraged. They end up coming back the next day, but this time they bring the media with them. Moore, followed by an entourage of local press members, confronts various K-Mart staff members while the Columbine victims do interviews with the press. They finally get the answer they’ve been looking for. K-Mart will discontinue the sale of bullets in all of their stores.
Moore is visibly shaken by this. Tears well up in his eyes as he announces victory and hugs his new friends. The persistence of the Columbine victims motivates Moore to attempt his greatest feat yet – an interview with NRA president Charlton Heston.
For years, Heston’s office had denied Moore an interview. Finally, while exiting town, Moore buys a star map and finds his house. He rings the bell, and through an intercom, he asks Heston for an interview, identifying himself as a filmmaker and lifelong NRA member (which he is) who is making a documentary about gun control. Heston unknowingly invites him back the next day, obviously expecting a harmless Q&A by an admirer.
Moore comes back the next morning and is greeted by a cheerful Heston. Moore shows him his membership card and starts a line of questioning that puts Heston more and more on edge. He ends up so shaken that he walks out in the middle of it, leaving Moore still shouting questions behind him.
In the end, it’s not really important whether Moore’s opinions on gun control match those of the viewer. Instead, it’s how he sets up the film, using horrifying footage from Columbine security cameras, a hilarious cartoon sketch of the history of America and a brilliant interview with a surprisingly intelligent Marilyn Manson.
Bowling for Columbine will linger in the minds of viewers for decades as a powerful yet entertaining documentary on gun control. NRA members and Republicans may hate Moore, but he would be the first to invite them to illustrate their points as well as he did in this documentary.
Shawn Wines can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.