‘Fahrenheit 11/9’ is an alarmingly rational conspiracy

Michael Moore’s latest documentary lays a gut-punch to the broken establishment

Fahrenheit_11-9

Michael Moore's latest documentary takes a look at some of the more disturbing and depressing elements of the Trump presidency.

Courtesy Briarcliff Entertainment

Michael Moore’s latest documentary covers some of the most inflammatory conspiracy theories of 2016 politics — Gwen Stefani is the reason Donald Trump ran for president, Bernie Sanders was rigged out of the Democratic primary in 2016, The New York Times is deliberately stamping down the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, Obama handled the Flint Michigan crisis with as much cowardice as the infamous state governor, Rick Snyder. “Fahrenheit 11/9” is not only a takedown of the visible man in power but also the system that never took him seriously enough to realize how broken and vulnerable it was.

“Was it all just a dream?”narrates Moore over footage of the 2016 election night in a parallel to his previous 2004 documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11.” He makes claims that others of his status would not dare to make. At times, such proclamations even feel like the ramblings of conspiracy. And yet, thanks to the ingenious use of archived news footage and unrelenting passion for both its villainous and heroic subjects, Moore manages to weave a narrative that mostly checks out. Unlike “QAnon” and other paranoid delusions hatched in the darkest corners of the Internet, the conspiracy at the heart of “11/9” contains both logical arguments and powerful emotional vignettes to back up its ambitious claims.

It has long been thought that Trump has a disturbing attraction to his oldest daughter, that his breed of populism bears startling resemblances to Nazi Germany and that the media — either out of naiveté or lust for ratings — plays right into his narrative. “11/9” succeeds most not when making these tired, if largely true, statements, but rather when capturing the spirit and energy of its heroes — grassroots candidates finding success by rejecting their mainstream party’s agenda, residents of Flint enduring and calling attention to a poisoned water supply, West Virginia teachers feeding low-income students while they strike for livable wages and Parkland survivors mounting a nationwide movement to stop kids from being massacred in schools.

The conspiracy here is one of complacency. Democratic officials speak of “compromise” and act against the interests of voters who are told they do not matter. Voting morale goes down the drain amongst once energized liberals and in its place enters a highly vocal minority of angry white people falsely labeled “the real America.” Moore notes how the vast majority of Americans have no guns, are fine with legalized abortion and are overwhelmingly liberal on a multitude of policies. Trump is no genius, but rather an opportunist taking advantage of a broken system that, as Moore puts it, he will only “break some more.”

Moore uses his cameras and footage to cover a broad array of topics in pursuit of his conspiracy. Not every angle is a success, though — an awkward use of the Hawaiian Missile Crisis as foreshadowing for a potential real disaster comes to mind. But when talking to a government worker told to cover up dangerous levels of lead in doctors’ reports, or a West Virginian veteran — Richard Ojeda —  who went from being a Trump voter to running as a Democrat in this year’s midterms, a unique kind of hope emerges in an otherwise apocalyptic scenario. Yes, the system is broken. But there are frustrated Americans doing their best to fix things, and they are winning.

Youth in particular are a force not to be dismissed. Supposedly knowledgeable adults are shown to be incompetent when high schoolers organizing a national campaign for gun safety have to brief a Florida representative on high-capacity magazines. In the same room, another stammering politician refuses to reveal his stance on AR-15s — the assault-style weapons used in many recent school shootings — while dismissively and cynically suggesting that change is unlikely to happen. He could not be more wrong, as diverse and progressive candidates like Rashida Tlaib and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez succeed after being dismissed by “senior” officials in the Democratic Party.

Despite attention-getting marketing that would suggest otherwise, “11/9” has a lot more on its mind than Trump. “I hope he never does [a movie] of me,” said the now-President in a 1998 interview with Michael Moore on “The Roseanne Show.” The line made for laughter in the theater, yet it seems like Trump should have been careful what he asked for. This movie may not be all about him, but it does not do him any favors either. If anything, its case is made more efficiently when focusing elsewhere.

Russia, the Mueller investigation, Trump’s tax returns and countless other front-page scandals are hardly mentioned. In their absence, “11/9” does not suggest that they do not matter. Rather, it simply refuses to play into Trump’s paranoid media attacks and opts for a completely new and refreshing narrative instead. There are no cries of fake news levied here, because Moore spares no one in his condemnation of complacency. “11/9” preaches simultaneous damnation and optimism — democracy never existed in a country constantly struggling with injustice, but there is a way out of the dark, totalitarian scenario many envision.

From the opening scene, Hillary Clinton, an out-of-touch symbol of the establishment, confidently struts on stage during election night. Everyone knows what would happen later that evening. But in the film’s very last shot, another woman is shown on stage. She is not an establishment Democrat, and barely of voting age, yet her unrestricted passion and energy represent all of the hope America needs. This woman is Emma Gonzalez, her eyes staring through a moment of silence after delivering a potent speech at the March For Our Lives in Washington, D.C. The silence says it all it needs to. This is the way out.

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