In Fahrenheit 11/9, filmmaker Michael Moore attempts to answer one question: how on earth did Donald Trump end up becoming President of the United States?
But instead of simply pointing the finger at MAGA supporters or even Trump himself, Moore explores the role that liberals – himself included - played in paving the way for what he calls “the rise of the strongman”. In this attack on democracy, we are all aiders and abettors. It’s uncomfortable, but necessary viewing.
Fahrenheit 11/9 attempts to cover a lot in its two hours: the 2016 election, the 2015 Flint water crisis, and the 2018 Parkland shooting all get screen time, with several other stories threaded in between. The coverage of the crisis in Flint, Michigan, a city which has been without clean water since 2015, is particularly compelling; Moore himself is a Flint native, and it’s clear this issue is a personal one for the filmmaker.
Billed as a comedy, the documentary is peppered throughout with Moore’s signature humour (exhibit A: Moore steals a Flint water truck and uses it to hose down Governor Rick Snyder’s mansion). But there are many more moments where the viewer isn’t quite sure how to react. Should we laugh? Or is it more appropriate to cry? The whole thing feels like a joke, except of course it isn’t. And that is the tone for much of the film: incredulity. Moore refuses to allow his audience to settle into the idea that Trump’s presidency is normal. “Did we dream it?” he asks.
If you search hard enough, beneath all the bleakness lies an uplifting call to action, to keep fighting for democracy. Moore shines the spotlight on new challengers to the liberal establishment like Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez - both of whom have since been elected to congress, which makes the optimism feel a bit more tangible.
It may not quite match up to his original 2004 smash hit Fahrenheit 9/11, but Moore’s Fahrenheit 11/9 is nevertheless a useful anchor in the fast flow of day’s political current, helping us to pin-point where we are, how we got here, and where we are headed next.