Michael Moore’s new film, Where to Invade Next, is one of 15 documentaries from which there will be five Oscar nominations. But the question is not whether this film is due for an award but whether it can have a positive impact on the 2016 election.
Where to Invade Next, to be released on February 12 just before the New Hampshire primary, gets early viewer ratings higher than those of any previous Moore films. He says it raises issues that “deeply affect people.”
Where to Invade Next begins with the observation that the USA has not had a military victory since the Second World War. It depicts the Defense Department tasking Moore with a mission to save the nation by invading foreign nations not to conquer them but to expropriate whatever worthy ideas they may have. Moore then departs on his quest wrapped in the American flag.
Moore tours several European nations and one African, which are getting things right – from free education to prison reform. Moore brilliantly makes this film without a single scene in the USA. There are glimpses into American society from news footage of disorder in places like Ferguson but not from Moore’s cameras. Abroad, Moore admires other nations for their wise progressive policies. Back in the USA, racism and political division rip the nation apart.
The American flag, everywhere in this film, is at once ironic and patriotic. In most shots Moore carries the flag into new countries and plants it to claim what he finds for America with a traditionally imperialist gesture.
The film moves forward with a force that might have intense consequences in this election cycle. Moore’s flag both emphasizes his very real patriotism and the displacement of leftist progressives as champions of their nation. In carrying the flag Moore alludes to unjust charges that his politics are treasonous, anti-American, and subversive.
Moore’s film replaces the jingoistic version of American exceptionalism but also departs from the negativity haunting the left since the ’60s. Moore realizes that progressive politics must discard negativity for an inspirational platform as does this film. Positive political change inspires every Moore film, but he tends to focus on social injustices, irrational laws and self-defeating policies, and economic institutions designed to benefit insiders. To motivate audiences to fight for change, this film shows progressive practices that actually work.
The cinematography uses ironic and witty juxtapositions to encourage creative reflection on what is both humorous and distressful, hopeful and tragic. It evokes from audiences a range of emotions in reaction to dramatic accounts of political action. The film ends with a reminder that one individual action can bring about huge change. The primary message of the film is that to improve our nation all we need to do is change how we think.
Moore released Fahrenheit 9/11 strategically before the 2004 elections to focus on administration lies and deceptions and on Bush as dumb and dangerous. The film was so threatening to the right that it made widespread attempts to stop its distribution, but the controversy only amplified its message. Where to Invade Next could be more powerful than Fahrenheit 9/11, which, despite the power of its message, could not stop Bush from pulling off another win.
Bush won because his campaign got out the vote. Many on the left vote against the right, not in favor of anything. Moore’s film asks whether this country really needs to invade other countries or whether the American people need to invade our political process, an invasion that could cause a real revolution.