A few pounds heavier and bereft of his usual face scruff, Michael Moore still manages to be an imposing figure as he waddles with purpose into the lives of unsuspecting business executives. His new documentary,
Capitalism: A Love Story
, doggedly pursues the meat of an American disaster in true Moore form, complete with surprise interventions, misappropriation of media and advertising, and symbolic gestures like hauling potato sacks up to a bank to collect reparations for the public. With the global economic collapse that began in 2007, Moore has encountered his most potent subject matter in years. And he pulls out all the stops. In many ways gathering the strengths of his previous efforts, such as
Roger and Me
Bowling for Columbine
, Moore has created a bombastic but thought-provoking rumination on the essence of American enterprise.
The most impacting pieces of the experience are undoubtedly the classic commercials and film clips that Moore splices in with current footage. He traces the development of Western capitalism to the pervasive media representation of the “American dream” as an idea that must include corporate greed and a so-called free market. The moment that he reaches the central metaphor of his thesis about the evils of modern capitalism—Reagan’s presidency—is when the film truly gels. Once viewers have been exposed to the reality that our national attachment to our economic system has been fabricated and manipulated, we see in no uncertain terms just how intimately politicians and financial kingpins sleep together.In one scene, the head of Merrill Lynch stands menacingly next to Reagan, monitoring the content of his speech. Although Moore is characteristically heavy-handed in editing the clip (“‘Shhh?’ Who shushes the president?”), the message is clear. The horror unfolds as Moore reveals how executives at Goldman-Sachs and related high-power firms installed themselves in varied and near-invisible posts of power in the Bush administration. The hold these individuals exerted over presidential decisions under Bush was more subversive than it was in Reagan’s time, but their input warped the outcome of many key financial decisions. They directed tax cuts to the wealthy and, as Moore tells it, “made off” with billions of taxpayer dollars that were originally intended for public aid.One of Moore’s strengths as a filmmaker is painfully uncovering the deep contradictions in our nation’s ideology. The clash is truly stark between basic tenets of Christianity (America’s predominant religion) and capitalism as we have grown to interpret and use it. Both are bookends of this American dream, and both have been twisted by the cult of individuality. Personal greed and greater public savvy for politics have not exactly erased morality from economic processes, but they have redefined it for the gains of those heading the hierarchy.Moore balances his hysterical indictment of capitalists for the economic crisis by giving some air time to those resisting the looming and insinuating machine. He interviews many representatives of the government who opposed the inclusion of corporate interests into the judicial and political process, including one legislator who stood on the floor of Congress and charged evicted Americans with the task of relentlessly squatting in and defending their foreclosed homes. He also details the efforts of a bakery in a robotics factory to operate on a functional communist model, dispensing power and influence equally to all employees.As one Citigroup executive smugly states, the United States has become a plutocracy—a system controlled by and benefiting the economically privileged—still polishing its thin veneer of democracy just to look good. As always, Moore provokes and frightens us, as well as equips us with the psychological and real-world tools for resistance. Despite his shrillness and tactic of fear-mongering in a world already fraught with fear, we should salute his insight and bravery in our very flawed utopia.