Back in 2004, Michael Moore released his seminal documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11”. He excoriated those who supported the invasion of Iraq—from then-President George W. Bush to the corporate media—and lambasted the misguided reasons for the war. Moore didn’t restrain his empathy either: his doc had a heart for the victims of the 9/11 attacks, and for the innocent Iraqi casualties of the war that followed. Fast-forward fourteen years, and America needs that level of criticism and empathy again. Enter Moore with “Fahrenheit 11/9”.
The flipped date refers to the early hours of the morning on November 9th, 2016, when Donald Trump shocked the world and won the Presidential Election. Michael Moore was less shocked than many of us were: four months before 11/9, he published an article titled “5 Reasons Why Trump Will Win”—and all five of his predictions happened exactly as he said they would. His new documentary focuses on questions rather than certainties. How did we get here? How do we move forward?
Given how utterly inescapable news about President Trump has been for the past forever, the big question is whether “Fahrenheit 11/9” adds anything new to the conversation. Is this just catharsis for Democrats, or is it something we should see?
How about a stronger recommendation: “Fahrenheit 11/9” is a movie that you need to see. This is one of the most pointed and revelatory documentaries that Michael Moore has ever made. It’s a radical firebrand that will light a fire under your theater seat and ignite the revolutionary spirit within you.
It also seems a bit unfinished, but that works to the movie’s benefit. Some sound clips aren’t smoothly integrated, at least one note to an editor has been left in, and the version that screened for critics didn’t even have end credits. The movie could’ve been refined with more time in post-production—but it shouldn’t have been. Moore wanted to get “Fahrenheit 11/9” out before the midterm elections in November. This documentary is rough around the edges because it’s political activism.
Michael Moore is a master of montage. His ability to organize information cinematically and edit it persuasively is undeniable, though he’s pretty cluttered here: “Fahrenheit 11/9” tackles so many issues that each segment could be its own documentary. Moore doesn’t actually spend much time talking about Donald Trump himself—he’s more interested in the systems that helped Trump happen, and how every American can get involved to throw wrenches into them.
And he’s crystal clear about how dangerous the systems’ gears are: they’re crushing lives. “Fahrenheit 11/9” finds urgency in its gravity, as Michael Moore engages in guerilla journalism to get a sense of how Americans are being hurt. It’s in this quest that the documentary flexes Moore’s strength as an equal opportunity critic. Oppressors of all stripes receive no mercy: the Republican governor of Michigan who ran the state like a business and instigated Flint’s (Moore’s hometown) water crisis, the Democratic establishment that relied on insider tactics to cheat progressives like Bernie Sanders out of a fair chance, corporate media outlets that amplify Trump’s platform for a ratings boost, state legislatures devaluing the work of its teachers, opponents of sensible gun reform—“Fahrenheit 11/9” castigates the powerful and asks us to raise our voices too.
It’s hard not to, given how unflinchingly the documentary portrays the suffering that the powerful cause. “Fahrenheit 11/9” has new information in that regard. Sometimes it’s a closer look into events we’re already aware of—like horrifying first-person videos of the Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting. Other times, it’s info that’ll undoubtedly launch new investigations, like a whistleblower’s revelation that a Michigan County Health Department ordered her to falsify blood tests to downplay how much lead is poisoning the children of Flint. In either case, these are kids being killed, and we shouldn’t remain silent.
The kids certainly aren’t. “Fahrenheit 11/9” isn’t all despair: the doc’s most inspirational moments are profiles of the people who are already fighting the power. The movie has a role model for almost every possible audience demographic—teenagers, tough guy veterans, women of color, LGBTQ+ community members, and more are represented. You too can participate in decreasing America’s temperature and saving others from the boiling water, and “Fahrenheit 11/9” is keen to show you how.
Despite Moore’s populism and best interests at heart, the movie doesn’t put much effort into convincing the more conservative, lacking the informative structure that his previous film “Where to Invade Next” utilized to explain problems from the ground up. “Fahrenheit 11/9” knows its audience: Moore’s narration speaks to the left in the first person. It’s less generally accessible, then, but the depth of its research speaks just as honestly.
“Fahrenheit 11/9” repeatedly evokes the image of an imminent apocalypse to rouse us into doing the right thing. It may be the must-see documentary of 2018, but Moore’s mixture of moral and apocalyptic messages would’ve also sat well with a more famous speaker from two thousand years ago.