A woman walked into the restaurant where I work a few days ago and asked if there were any good movies playing in the area. She and her husband were in from out of town. I immediately recommended “Bowling for Columbine,” and my suggestion was echoed with enthusiasm from the other hostess as well as a few waiters who happened to be loitering at the host stand.
The woman, who was in her 50s, made a just-bit-into-a-lemon face. “We don’t want to see that,” she said. “We’re from Colorado.”
Although the general critical response to Michael Moore’s “Columbine” has been overwhelmingly positive, there have been a few dissenters. The nicer dissenters argued that Moore’s thesis was unclear and that, although there is certainly a good movie to be made about gun control, “Columbine” is just not that movie. The angrier critics – among them, Rex Reed of The New York Observer and Jeremy Heilman of Movie Martyr – despised Moore’s interviewing techniques, comparing them to tabloid journalism. Heilman, especially, was outraged by the film. And he does have a point, “The problem Moore sees with media manipulation can only be solved by free thinking in the public.” Heilman continues, “By leading his audience to the singular conclusion in the manner that he does, Moore only makes the audience think that they are drawing their own conclusions. They aren’t though. Because he presents himself as an everyman, but at the same time presents himself as superior to everyone who hasn’t suffered greatly, the audience can easily align themselves with Moore and tell themselves: I’m glad I’m not part of the problem.”
Neither of these critics cited being from Colorado as a reason that they didn’t like the film.
There are a couple of things that stand out in this situation. The first is that “Columbine” haters are somewhat justified in their rationale. Moore’s film does masquerade as a documentary when it fails, in fact, to show anything but Moore’s own viewpoint on the subject of gun-control and fear in America. But who ever said that a movie was a democratic space? The beauty of the film is its singular vision, the way one writer’s screenplay benefits from a director’s handling of the material. And Moore, who is both writer and director of “Columbine,” is a passionate and entertaining guide to one of the most affecting, terrifying and moving films released this year. After all, it’s not like he lied. He just argued his case. And it was a hell of a case. Perhaps we are aligned with Moore, perhaps we do leave the movie thinking, “God, America is full of idiots.” But what’s so wrong with that? It makes us think about the media we consume, it makes us critical of our society. And that, I think, is better than nothing.
As for the woman who was so offended that I’d even think to recommend “Columbine” to her, I could have just as easily responded: “Well, I’m from Michigan.” Because “Columbine” is just as much about Michigan as it is Colorado. Much of the film takes place here, including an important storyline about Kayla Rolland, the first grader who was shot at school a few years ago, as well as several interviews with local idiots who keep handguns under their pillows and make bombs in their basements. I could be plenty more embarrassed and distraught by the film than Mrs. I’m From Colorado, but that fact didn’t even occur to me until she brought it up.
With two films at the box-office right now that take place in and around Detroit – “8 Mile” and “Columbine” – there is a lot of room for anger and humiliation to well in us Michiganders. We could be outraged that our Detroit has been portrayed as a wasteland of trailer parks and racism, that our farms look like breeding grounds for the next wave of KKK members, and that in the ruins of our state, the only hero who emerges is one swearing, violent homophobe whose lyrics offend nearly half the U.S. population.
So why aren’t any of us angry? Why don’t we flee from these films with our hands covering our eyes? Maybe we’re just better than everyone else (just kidding). The answer is -to quote Winona Ryder’s speech from the beginning of “Reality Bites”- I don’t know. Maybe the answer is that we’re proud. We’re proud to finally be a part of the intellectual debates this nation usually limits to New York, L.A. and the redneck cities that dot middle America. “8 Mile” does a lot of things, good and bad, but like Moore’s film, it is a singular vision, the story of one boy’s passion for his art form. And the debate about the validity of that art form is not the central point of the movie, just as “Columbine” doesn’t want to be a democratic film about all the possible reasons we as a nation are out of control when it comes to guns and fear. Both movies are movies, made by one guy with a dream. And both of those guys come from our great state. And whether or not we choose to accept them or not, whether we choose to open our eyes to what our fellow Detroiters have to say, is up to us. Hopefully we’ll make the right choice.
The woman, by the way, decided to go see “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” for the second time. She didn’t look too Greek to me, but I guess that’s no surprise. If she had happened to be Greek, she’d probably have a vendetta against that film as well. After all, it’s just plain awful when someone from your own homeland goes around healing his cuts with Windex. How humiliating.
Stephanie Kapera can be reached at email@example.com.