Bowling for Columbine: Are We a Nation of Gun Nuts or Are We Just Nuts?

Bowling for Columbine: Are We a Nation of Gun Nuts or Are We Just Nuts? – movie review

Erika Waak

Directed and written by Michael Moore, Hopscotch Films, 2002.

Documentary film director, bestselling author, and persistent gadfly Michael Moore informs and amuses us once more with his latest film, Bowling for Columbine, the first documentary ever accepted at the Cannes Film Festival. In this humorous and horrifying work, Moore attempts to answer why American culture is steeped in gun violence and fear. Prompted by the Columbine High School massacre of April 1999 in Littleton, Colorado, the film reveals that shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold went bowling the morning of the shooting–hence the movie’s title.

Dressed in his customary jeans, untucked shirt, and gimme cap, Moore conducts an array of confounding interviews with South Park creator Matt Stone, rock musician Marilyn Manson, and suspicious–sometimes zombie-eyed–tofu farmer James Nichols, brother of Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols. Moore also questions a high school dropout who amazingly admits he’s disappointed for only making number two on the town’s bomb threat list. Moore meets with a Lockheed Martin public relations representative in Littleton and draws a daunting link that perhaps it’s no coincidence the world’s largest weapons maker operates in the same city as the Columbine shootings.

Joining with two Columbine survivors, both students having endured torturous and debilitating injuries from bullets purchased at Kmart, Moore confronts Kmart corporate executives and, in his signature way, throws them off kilter. One survivor even lifts his shirt to reveal several bullet wounds. Then, after receiving what seems to be the usual corporate treatment of being put off and ignored, Moore is surprised and gratified by Kmart’s sudden agreement in an official statement that handgun ammunition will no longer be sold in any Kmart store.

Throughout the documentary Moore reveals unnerving and angering statistics: the day that the Columbine tragedy occurred, the United States dropped more bombs on Kosovo than at any other time during the war; in Toronto, Canada–a city of millions–citizens don’t even lock their doors; and 90 percent of the guns in the United States are bought in white suburbs where there’s hardly any violent crime. Most astounding are the number of non-war deaths caused by guns each year worldwide: 381 in Germany, 255 in France, 165 in Canada, 68 in the United Kingdom, 65 in Australia, 39 in Japan, and a whopping 11,127 in the United States.

Though there are other countries with as many per capita firearms and equally violent histories, the question of why the United States suffers from so disproportionate a number of shootings remains a mystery.

Moore also digs into the story of the six-year-old boy who in February 2000 used a handgun to kill his classmate Kayla Roland at school in the Beecher district near Flint, Michigan. Just after Roland’s death–and in 1999, ten days after the Columbine shootings–Charlton Heston inconsiderately held a huge pro-gun rally for the National Rifle Association in the location of the tragedy despite community mourning and pleas that the convention not take place. So Moore conducts his usual ambush-style interview by going directly to Heston’s house in Beverly Hills, California. The former actor proceeds to reveal a surprising inability to marshal the common NRA arguments in response to Moor’s simple inquiries. As a result, the film comes phenomenally close to exposing what would appear to be an uncaring and racist NRA president–one obsessed more with his abstract right to own firearms (which he admits he doesn’t really need) than with any associated social responsibilities.

Moore offers stimulating opinions about the possible contributing factors as to why the United States suffers from so much violence and even gives some favor to an idea that America is a fearful culture. But in the end he offers no clear conclusion. Instead, he encourages viewers to probe their own thoughts in search for some answer to what remains a perplexing and disturbing American dilemma. Moore says, “Ultimately, getting rid of the guns will be the answer. [But] I think if we got rid of all our guns in the United States, we would still have the psyche problem–the problem that says we have a right to resolve our disputes through violence. That’s what separates us from other countries.”

Erika Waak is editorial associate for the Humanist.

COPYRIGHT 2003 American Humanist Association

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group