The United States is a country which has fomented or propped up countries to engage in wars since the 1950s. Michael Moore’s Where to Invade Next, which played at both the New York and Hamptons Film Festivals, is a wake-up call to Americans: the violent invasions and war engagements must stop. The Joint Chiefs of Staff must stand down. To become the number one nation on the planet, we should invade other countries. But not to bring death and have our arms manufacturers and the US military industrial complex justify their own profitable existence. Rather we should invade to capture successful social programs so we can implement such practices and uplift American citizens’ way of life at home.
How is this to be accomplished? Michael Moore, armed with his cameras, crew and an American flag will journey to Europe, target countries with the best policies, force them to yield to his interrogations, then colonize their programs. To seal and secure our triumph he will leave the flag as a symbol of his blazing invasion.
Moore is known for his trenchant humor and sardonic excoriations which bulls-eye the truth about the worst of America’s systemic corporate corruption, collusion and cronyism with politicos (Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11). In this exceptional documentary Moore uses implicit irony and understatement to examine his subject matter, American “greatness.” Despite the apparent “simplicity” of his humorous approach, Where to Invade Next is rich with tonal layers. It shimmers with brilliant, unequivocal insight and manifests an unmistakable depth and courage. In the documentary Moore confronts our cultural contradictions and myths by inviting comparison with other countries who have achieved success with various social programs.
Filmed solely in Europe, Moore’s “travel doc” magnifies our country from afar. His perspective broadens our own myopic view and leads us to see the effects of some of the US’s disparate, nullifying values. Through the filter of distance and various nations’ cultural lenses, Moore’s vision of America is made limpid, transparent.
We are weighed in the balance and found wanting. As he takes us along his expansive cultural journey, he sifts the ideas and best practices he’s “captured, stolen, colonized” from visits to France, Slovenia, Finland, Italy, Portugal, Tunisia, Germany and Norway. During and after each visit, we are uplifted that someone, somewhere got their human priorities right. And we are saddened that by comparison, in a particular program, law or practice, we in the US have become too bogged down in political ego, greed and profit-making to bring our concern for fellow citizens to the top of our priorities list.
Moore investigates French schools and reveals their lunch menus are “magnifique.” Actually, in French public schools, lunch is a class. The kids learn about healthy nutrition; they learn how to eat in a mannerly way from china plates and stainless steel cutlery. The three-course lunch is “fit for a king, “and the chef serves the kids as they sit patiently at their tables.
The idea of misbehavior and food fights (as happens in the U.S.), is unimaginable. The food is too good. The principal and other officials affirm that the children must be nutritiously fed or they will not be able to learn or concentrate. There is no soda, no soda machines anywhere in the building; the children drink water, and they like water. In a particularly humorous scene, Moore is in a frenzy for soda and has one of the crew get him a coke. When he shares it with a student, the child’s reaction is priceless. The message hits home.
Absent processed, industrialized foods, the meals are made from scratch. Planning the lunch is a matter of high regard for the children with the nutritionists, chefs, school officials. And as Michael Moore eats the sumptuous meal with the children, we note that there is not one overweight child at his table or at any of the other tables for that matter.
Moore invades Italy. He examines the best practices of Italian employment laws, hours and wages. He visits a couple who are happy and who, like all Italians, look “like they have just had sex.” Moore shows this humorous perspective, panning shots of couples as they saunter arm in arm down city streets at a leisurely pace enjoying the sights and the Italian lifestyle.
They do look like they have just had sex. However, when Moore gets to employment fundamentals and asks about their work week, health benefits, hours, paid vacations, two-hour lunches and paid maternity leave, what he discovers is awesome. For the couple the legal work requirements are their just reward. Indeed, the husband and wife are horrified at Moore’s discussion of American working conditions: longer hours and work weeks, two weeks vacation, usually unpaid, no paid maternity leave, one-hour lunches, few paid holidays. That many Americans hate their jobs is a fact Moore doesn’t state; he doesn’t have to; it’s implicit, as it is explicit that the Italians enjoy their unstressed lifestyle.
Moore reinforces this theme when he interrogates Italian CEOs, one the CEO of the Ducatti motorbike factory. Moore’s questions yield surprising answers. The CEOs and family run business owners affirm that paying their workers well results in little or no absenteeism, quality work and employee satisfaction. Of course a worker’s positive attitude about his employment causes less hassle for the managers and company owners. The implicit contrast is that American CEOs are obsessed with the corporate bottom line; employees are overworked, underpaid, under-benefited, stressed and resigned to profits before people. We are shocked; are these Italian CEOs to be believed?
During the course of the film, Moore punctuates these themes with a discussion about how German laws stipulate that workers may not be contacted by employers after their day is completed. And he reinforces the point that the working conditions were not always like this in Europe. Italians, like many Europeans in other countries, took to the streets and protested for better hours, wages, benefits. Moore doesn’t cover the garment worker sweat shops in Southern Italy (run by the Italian version of the Mafia; no wonder why the North wishes to break from the South). He is “stealing” best practices. Sweat shops and slave labor typical of outsourcing approved of by US fast fashion companies are inhumane.
Moore invades Finland and Slovenia for their fine education. Finland which had one of the worst systems in the world a few decades ago, revamped their educational model and redirected it toward student-centered learning, not test centered learning which is factory based-raw materials in product out. By changing their approach and focusing on learning enjoyment, interesting curriculum and other factors, students excelled. One of the fundamentals in this set up is that kids are not given homework. A shocking result occurred. They avidly learned in class; their achievement soared.
Most importantly, in Finland there are no private schools, no enforced class system of “haves” and “have-nots,” no enriched curricula for the “haves” and “dumbed-down” courses for the “have nots.” The “haves” cannot pay to make sure their children don’t associate with the “have nots.” In Finland all are together; all are offered the same curriculum.
In Moore’s visit of Slovenia, he colonizes their program which offers a free college education to everyone who wants to attend. This includes free college for students from other countries. Moore interviews Americans who cannot afford to attend college in the U.S. In Slovenia, they are getting their education free without having to worry about a massive college debt payback which can never be discharged in bankruptcy and for which there is no guarantee they will be able to find a job to pay it back. Remarkable!
On his travels to Portugal, Moore steals this best practice; it is a release of all those who were imprisoned for drug offenses. The law stipulates one cannot be imprisoned for doing drugs. If a cop sees someone doing drugs, he looks the other way. Druggies can’t get arrested. His travels to Norway take him to a Norwegian prison. Another shock. Their focal point is true rehabilitation and their recidivism rate is enviable. How do they treat murderers? How do the families of those murdered feel? You won’t believe it. Moore steals this program also and plants the U.S. flag.
What Moore has done throughout the film is to focus on basic human values and the “golden rule.” He reveals the programs that measure up to this standard in the countries he invades and colonizes. Of course, the common theme found in all of the practices he “steals” is empathy and the best of human ideals and behavior. The irony he points out at the conclusion of the film is the greatest kicker of all. The interrogated in some of the countries he visits insist that they implemented such programs by stealing the ideas from America. These were American programs, American ideas? The question remains, does that America exist today?
Where to Invade Next is Moore’s most salient and shining documentary. In it, Moore is a pioneer and like all pioneers, when desolation and decline loom on the horizon and failure appears imminent, they are not loathe to pull up their stakes and forge ahead to another frontier. Moore’s frontier is a return to what America aspired to be but was unable to achieve fully or sustain wholly. The filmmaker, tempered with an unabashed love for his country is sad about the decline of some of our institutions. Yet he hopes in the American people’s desire to take charge of themselves and re-establish the programs which Europe “stole” from us and which we appear to have lost sight of.
Hope brought down the Berlin Wall in 1989. Moore was present and photographed the event. When it’s time, walls do fall. Bad practices fall, injustice falls, inequity falls. All that is necessary is a peaceful invasion of our own country to re-implement the human ideals that our country’s best practices once embraced: principles of justice and equity.
Where to Invade Next, a terrific film, spurs us to this end. Don’t miss it.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B0030MGVWQ] [amazon template=iframe image&asin=B000SINT52] [amazon template=iframe image&asin=B000UNYJXQ]