The Cold, Dead Heart of Gun Toting America: Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine

By Mundell, Meg | Metro Magazine, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

The Cold, Dead Heart of Gun Toting America: Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine


Mundell, Meg, Metro Magazine


THREE YEARS AGO, JUST BEFORE LUNCH break on an unremarkable spring day in a normal American high school, two teenagers pulled out loaded weapons and began gunning down their schoolmates. No one will ever know what Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, eighteen and seventeen, said to each other in the moments before the began--the two reserved their final bullets for themselves.

The Columbine High School massacre lasted sixteen minutes and left a total of fifteen people dead. For a stunned America, denied the chance to seek an explanation from the boys who had pulled the trigger, one question resounded in the vacuum: why?

It takes a gutsy film-maker to walk into the aftermath of such a horrible event and attempt to answer that question. American writer and film-maker Michael Moore--part rabble-rouser, part astute social critic--has made a career out of planting himself smack in the middle of trouble and trying to make sense of it. In a country where patriotism is virtually a religion, he's managed to carve out a niche as a political satirist. And in a nation of gun nuts, where the right to bear arms is enshrined in law, Bowling for Columbine (Michael Moore, 2002) jumps right into the thick of the trouble.

Prompted by America's worst-ever high school shooting, the film began its life as a documentary exploring gun culture in America--land of the free, home of the brave and gun capital of the world. But this multi-layered work reaches far beyond its initial premise. In Moore's eyes, the Columbine massacre was not an isolated event, but a manifestation of the hair-trigger mental state of America itself--a nation that shoots first and asks questions later.

The first documentary in forty-six years to be selected for competition at Cannes, Bowling for Columbine is a dizzying, surreal, disturbing hurtle through the flipside of the American Dream. Building from its base in the stricken high school community, it spirals out into the wider world and back through America's bloody history, spinning an intricate web of connections between the macro and the micro, individual and government, handgun and missile, small town and superpower. Starting at street level we focus on the community's love-hate relationship with weapons, draw back for a look at the way violence fits into the national psyche, and zoom out for a disturbing look at how these forces, writ large, shape America's destiny.

The cavalcade of startling interviews, sharp-witted cartoons, archival war footage, cowboy movie snippets, vintage toy gun ads and bizarre promotional videos makes for intense viewing. In the wrong hands, this collage could have backfired into a disjointed mish-mash. But Moore keeps a steady hand on the tiller. Parts of Bowling for Columbine are hard to watch, but turning away is not an option: this is intelligent and compelling entertainment that leads you to make links and draw conclusions without even realizing you're doing so.

The film opens with images of bowling balls scattering pins--a double-barrelled visual cue that refers to both the deadly power of projectiles, and the feverish and sometimes downright illogical search for an explanation that gripped America in the wake of the Columbine shootings. On the morning of the killings, the two teenage gun-men went bowling. The film's title is a reminder that complex and tragic events never have simple explanations: wheeling out the usual procession of half-baked explanations is as nonsensical as blaming bowling.

The documentary's magic ingredient lies not in the complex layers of story, or its clever juxtapositions of footage, but in the personality of the film-maker and the rapport he builds up with his subjects.

Moore's skill as an interviewer is fascinating to watch. Wisely, considering the nature of his subject matter, he does not come across as a man spoiling for a fight; his shuffling gait and rumpled demeanour call to mind a friendly and inquisitive bear. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Cold, Dead Heart of Gun Toting America: Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.