Bowling for Columbine is a classic Michael Moore film which demonstrates the power of the game of bowling as an alternative for target practise. The Columbine High School massacre is the basis behind the film and Moore shows that the culture of guns in the US has ruined the fabric of this society.
Gun control is an important and very sensitive issue in the United States. Michael Moore’s film parodies the American fixation with guns and cites several cases where the usage of guns has gone out of hand in parallel with a perceived bowling incident before the Columbine School massacre.
Gun control remains a very thorny issue in the United States and ever since the Columbine School massacre there have been countless other similar incidents resulting in the deaths of hundreds of innocents. Although the film was made in 2002, it still is very much valid today and its arguments are spot on. The American mindset has not changed much, in fact the powerful gun lobby still rules the roost although there have been attempts at reigning it in.
The film has various interviews with society leaders amongst them the President of the National Rifle Association who obviously speaks in favour of the proliferation of firearms all over the country. Moore is at pains to point out that the sale of firearms is without control and there are even cases when banks give away a free rifle if a deposit to an account is made – sheer madness if this is to be taken seriously. Incredibly this claim was verified to be true. No wonder most banks went bust after the Lehmann Brothers fallout.
‘Bowling for Columbine’ also delves deep into the American mindset where there is a fixation that if you are protecting your First Amendment rights then you have to own a gun. It is quite a perverse indication of the state of society which has eventually led to the terrible massacres in various schools. Michael Moore is not so subtle in the way he portrays the crass ignorance which is nominally present in American society as a whole when it demonstrates that guns are almost the be all and end all for a democratic society. And lurking in the background of the film is the ugly spectre of racism which seems to imply that owning a gun means that any citizen can take justice into his/her own hands and go shooting away at his/her heart’s content at everything that moves.
The connection with Michigan is a sound one in the film. Although Moore mistakenly assumed that the two students who carried out the Columbine High School massacre attended a bowling class before they carried out their deadly deed, there are other connections. In fact the Michigan militia actually uses bowling as target practice. Another connection is with an obscure town in Utah where every resident owns a gun. These strange leitmotifs carry much weight as they show us that the United States is still very backward when it comes to the ownership and usage of guns.
The sequence using the Beatles song, ‘Happiness is a warm Gun is also very harrowing and instructive. The piece where people buy guns shows a certain fatalism while the part in which they fire rifles at carnivals and shooting ranges is also pretty disturbing. There is a sense of bravado in the showing of Carey McWilliams who is a blind gun enthusiast. The parts where Gary Plauche takes the law into his own hands and kills Jeff Doucet is also very harrowing and is skilfully handled by Moore who brings out the utter senselessness of revenge with a gun. Budd Dwyer and Daniel Jones both committed suicide for different reasons but again, Moore emphasises the sheer senselessness of guns and gun abuse. The shooting of Marika Nunez by her ex-husband live on television is perhaps the most terrible of all the excerpts shown by Moore as it emphasises the utter lack of self-control prevalent in those who have guns as their main hobby.
Moore uses very basic techniques in the film, this is no blockbuster epic. His interviews are frank and matter of fact and the responses are frequently unedited – this adds to the feeling of authenticity throughout. The ‘What a Wonderful World’ sequence is quite shocking as it shows several incidents from all over the world where the United States was the aggressor and there is also a link to the fabled ‘weapons of mass destruction’ which institutionalises violence as a way of protection.
One can really appreciate the intensity of feeling in the film where gun control is concerned and how all this comes together in Moore’s statement against what is deemed to be a God-given right under the Constitution. One also has to note that film was produced during President George Bush’s tenure – a President who was very much in favour of gun owners counting the National Rifle association as one of his top supporters. Moore’s ‘Bowling for Columbine’ is indeed very powerful and disturbing at the same time.
Scott, A.O. (October 11, 2002). "Film Review: Bowling for Columbine". The New York Times.
Howe, Desson (October 18, 2002). "Moore Shoots Himself In the Foot". The Washington Post. Retrieved April 26, 2010.