Michael Moore’s travels are now taking him to Italy, where he is comparing the European experience with the American one. The format repeats itself often, in one part of the movie Moore talks with two optimistic Italians about their working life. He asks them how many weeks of paid vacation they receive and they reply eight, which is nothing all that unusual to them. Moore, on the other hand, is pretty shocked—reflecting, perchance, the shared American perspective of the audience? The Italian couple then asks how many weeks of paid vacation Americans have, and he states, by law, none. This is a typical sort of moment that plays itself here, and repeats itself throughout the film: foreigners reacting to with disbelief to something most Americans consider normal. At first the Italians are so surprised that they assume it’s some sort of joke. So they ask him again if that is fact, and he repeats the same answer: zero. Their expressions are where the film pulls the humor from, but there’s a moralistic aspect to it too. We are forced to pause, reflect and wonder what to do next.
That’s the special power of Where To Invade Next. It’s a thoughtful and wonderful documentary wrapped in comedy—the movie might make you think twice, but once the message sinks it, the movie becomes life-changing and perhaps even a little life-affirming.
Moore secretly produced and directed this film, his first since 2009. The documentary follows Moore across the continent of Europe as he plans to “invade” various countries. He says and quite cheerfully does this when he places an American flag in a given country “claiming” it. His incentive for “invading” these countries is because America is not doing so hot and he planned these trips to see what other countries are doing right, compares that to what America is doing wrong and “claims” through these “invasions” the concepts that he feels are done right.
Still in Italy, Moore meets the CEO of the motorcycle manufacturer Ducati, Claudio Domenicali. He asks the CEO if he’s ok with this concept of paying workers when they are not working. Domenicali replies that he’s just fine with it, without a second’s thought. Moore responds that Domenicali could quite easily not do this, and instead have a no pay vacation policy thereby increase his wealth as a CEO. “Who needs that much money?” he simply replies. Moore asks us to imagine that kind of thinking in America.
Moore’s travels across the continent of Europe (including a little side trip to Africa) are journeys of inquiry to discover what our country can learn from these other countries. The film provides ample amounts of fascinating evidence of how these European nations have resolved issues relating to drugs, sex education, police training, prisons and women’s rights to the degree where it looks dreamlike to our American eyes. He approaches two students from a university asking if they have any debt. They haven’t a clue what he is referring so that he actually has to explain the concept to them—they of course say “we don’t have that” but American viewers won’t need an explanation(and considering that I’m in the position of writing for a college newspaper, I may have hit a nerve somewhere, in someone).
Of course, you may be of the belief that he’s being a one-sided super liberal as always in his films. You’re right, no doubt there, that is unfortunately always going to be the case with Moore’s filmography. But one aspect that surprised me was that the typical Moore was absent from the film. We know Moore famously took Columbine victims to K-Mart for a refund of the bullets still lodged within themselves in Bowling for Columbine (2002). He’s a polarizing individual on whatever he talks about and he holds absolutely nothing back, no matter how scalding his words are going to be and how unsympathetic the camera will act in recording it. In this film though we find him in a more humble capacity, someone searching for an answer to help more than anything. Despite what he states in the film, he’s softened a little I think.
However, and this is crucial, no matter what side of the political spectrum you sit upon this film above all is just a film that talks about human decency in America. Moore brings to light that America has a long history of many injustices. He wants us to understand that we can move forward, he let’s us know that America is full of great people that do want to make change. He does not want to belabor, he wants to inspire.
Moore may not be as typically rough as nails to a chalkboard on what he means to talk about. He instead lets us develop into the subject matter in a more educational matter, a willingness to observe this all with honesty when faced with the facts. If America is the big loud and cool-looking pop celebrity of country that it is, what does it want to preserve above all else? What problems does it want to fix? And where can we find these answers?