It sounds pretty crazy to make a movie for popular consumption on the subject of capitalism. It sounds pretty dull, but not in the hands of the always provocative Michael Moore. Capitalism: A Love Story may just be his masterpiece.
It’s masterful in the sense that it skillfully sums up all of his interests and neatly ties them together. There’s the George W. Bush bashing of Fahrenheit 9/11 of course. The need for universal health care comes up a time or two. Remember Sicko? And the volatile cocktail of angry people plus handguns and the general state of fear that we live in continue from Bowling for Columbine. He even re-visits Flint, Michigan and his documentary Roger and Me.
It’s also masterful as entertainment. Don’t expect to learn any academic lessons on capitalism or socialism or any other –ism. Moore isn’t about anything so boring. Expect instead his typical gadfly methods of throwing stories and anecdotes at us from all directions, with most of them sticking, if not to the wall at least in our hair. He’d be the first to tell you he isn’t a journalist. He’s more of a populist commentator, like a Rush Limbaugh from the left.
And his stories this time around are good, very good. They made me laugh and cry and think and get upset in all the ways I’m sure he intended. Moore is a great storyteller if nothing else. And two of his stories here in particular are quite poignant and moving.
Woven throughout the movie is the story of a family that is being forced out of their home of many years. It seems that the bank has significantly increased their mortgage payments one or two too many times and they can no longer make payments. Adding insult to injury, the foreclosure company has paid them $1000 to dispose of their own belongings, mostly by bonfire. The man of the house says memorably while packing up his three handguns, “Now I understand why people rob banks.”
Another story – one that left my mouth agape – looks at a man and his children as they try to cope with the recent loss of their wife and mother, who was only in her 20s. Their devastation is magnified by the discovery that her employer – where she worked as a cake decorator – had taken out a life insurance policy on her, naming the corporation as beneficiary. The family struggles with medical bills and funeral costs while her former employer profits from her death to the tune of $81,000.
There is also plenty of humor to balance the sadness. Otherwise it wouldn’t be a Michael Moore movie. There is a hilarious sequence where not even a Wall Street broker or an economics professor can explain how stock market derivatives work. And there is an example of capitalism run aground in a town where juvenile detention has been contracted to a private company – and its judge who has been paid off to keep the cells full. One teenager was locked up for throwing a piece of steak at his parents.
I’ve criticized Moore in the past for not knowing when to quit and often ending his movies with a stunt that undoes much of what he had accomplished. Think of his unfair treatment of Charlton Heston at the end of Bowling for Columbine for instance. Here though, he has taken no such misstep.
His wrapping up bank buildings in yellow “crime zone” tape and using a megaphone to announce he’s making a citizen’s arrest seems a perfectly just ending.