Bowling for Columbine: Film Asks Provocative Questions about U.S. Culture of Violence. (Movies)

By Jones, Melissa | National Catholic Reporter, November 8, 2002 | Go to article overview

Bowling for Columbine: Film Asks Provocative Questions about U.S. Culture of Violence. (Movies)


Jones, Melissa, National Catholic Reporter


After the D.C.-area sniper attacks startled the nation, the Columbine High School massacre seems like history long past. But the shocking murder of 12 students and a teacher by two troubled teens on April 20, 1999, caused anguish for the parents, students, teachers and residents of Littleton that is as real today as ever.

The Denver premiere of "Bowling for Columbine" concluded with filmmaker Michael Moore acknowledging an extended standing ovation in the packed theatre. He said, "During the three years making this film my wife and I often wondered what it would be like to he here in Denver watching this film." He added, "I hope the parents and students of Columbine will see this film and realize it is made by somebody who never wants to see the likes of Columbine happen again."

Moore had reason to worry about the acceptance of his film in the Denver area. Parents of Columbine victims were offered an advanced screening by Denver's Starz International Film Festival organizers. Several refused to see it and criticized Moore for trying to capitalize on the tragedy.

Moore is no stranger to criticism. "Roger & Me" was his 1989 critique of corporate America; his best-selling book, Stupid White Men, explains itself in the title. With "Columbine"--appearing on the heels of the Montgomery County, Md., shootings--Moore has created a stimulating documentary that ought to produce widespread discussion across the United States regarding our use of guns and violence. This film is a combination of unsettling ambush journalism, brilliant interviewing and humor.

R-rated "Bowling for Columbine" (violent images and language--mostly real-life violence from news videos and journalistic reports) uses security-camera video from Columbine High during the attack. Defending the use of this footage, Moore said he did not intend to single out Littleton or create "freaks." He said the video shows just how normal things were--a normal community, normal high school, a normal cafeteria, and then "normal" kids walked through with guns and bombs, wreaking havoc. "The normalcy is the most frightening thing about it," he said.

The question that initially motivated Moore to make the film remains unanswered. Why would two upper middle-class boys from apparently normal families go bowling one morning, then go to their high school and massacre 12 of their classmates and a teacher? This original question moved Moore to examine broader issues of fear and violence in the United States.

The movie offers mostly questions: Why are there so many forms of violence in our country at so many levels? Does listening to heavy metal produce murderers? Does the sport of bowling produce murderers? What makes us arm ourselves? Does our fear of the "other" (blacks, Hispanics, Arabs) feed into the U.S. love of guns? Does our callous disregard of the needs of the poor result in violent crime? Does government-sanctioned violence, such as war, the death penalty and covert military activities lead individual citizens to justify violence and murder?

While offering no specific answers to these questions, Moore makes several suggestions. The movie shows comedian Chris Rock asserting that one round of ammunition should cost $5,000 Rock's idea that a murderous thug would need a second job to buy a bullet is truly funny. Moore springboards from this to suggest that cheap, easy-to-obtain ammunition feeds America's gun hunger. …

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