Michael Moore is angry again. Very angry. And it’s about time. All of his best work stems from the fire that burns inside of him, the drive for honest change. In the opening sequence of his latest documentary, Fahrenheit 11/9, he dives right into the movie’s unabashedly furious tone: “How the fuck did this happen?” He doesn’t have time for pleasantries; he has an obsessive need to get to the bottom of this crisis. It’s that intense desire that makes this documentary as compelling as it is. In Fahrenheit 11/9, Michael Moore has finally made a movie for people who can’t stand Michael Moore movies.
Since the controversial results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, millions of people around the globe have been plagued by the same burning question: how could a self-absorbed, fear-mongering demagogue like Donald Trump become the leader of the free world? Michael Moore dives headfirst into the insanity, using his cutting wit to analyze what will become of America, and how we backed ourselves into this corner in the first place. Tackling the dilemma from many angles, he places just as much blame on the failings of the Democratic Party as he does on the Republican voters who enabled a megalomaniac to seize control.
Is Fahrenheit 11/9 self-indulgent? Of course it is. The film’s title alone is a blatant callback to the director’s Palme d’Or winning catalog entry (and the highest grossing documentary of all time). However, the film isn’t nearly as narcissistic as you might expect it to be. Moore doesn’t position himself at the center of this story the way he has done so egotistically in his recent output. The key difference from his weaker films is that he points the spotlight at the interview subjects, allowing those fighting in the streets for social justice to tell their stories of what they are doing to bring balance to the Trump era, as well as the personal motivations they have for doing so.
What’s more, Fahrenheit 11/9 is truly provocative, and never in a way the purely relies on shock value to fill theater seats. The film’s motivations are in the right place, and Moore appears to be genuinely speaking from the heart, searching for long-term solutions rather than simply wallowing in pessimism. He tries to find the point where it all went wrong, but he does so with his gaze pointed emphatically toward the future, not the past. The film’s release deliberately falls a mere six weeks before the midterms so he can urge viewers to get out to the polls.
This scathing thesis doesn’t beat around the bush when drawing direct parallels between Donald Trump and Adolf Hitler. Moore (like many other concerned citizens) sees the warning signs of fascism all around him, and he isn’t content to stand by while it consumes the nation he loves so dearly. Surprisingly, he doesn’t provide an easy fix. Instead, he cedes the authority of activism to ordinary Americans who are willing to step up to the plate. Therein lies the understated finesse of Fahrenheit 11/9, as Michael Moore affords equal credence to both the things he does know and the things he can learn from others. That’s what sets this documentary apart from his previous efforts.