Moore deviates from humor by using the genre of melodrama to tell one mother‘s story. This is Lila Lipscomb.
Moore juxtaposes Lipscomb’s story with the cold reality that many
Moore makes one of his rare appearances in the film, dressed in his usual attire of a baseball cap and a sweatshirt. He is an
“What is wrong with George. Trying to be like his father, Bush. He got us out here for nothing whatsoever,” Lipscomb reads the last letter her son sent home as it slowly brings her to tears.
When Lispcomb travels to Washington DC, she confronts a woman in front of the White House about the reality of losing her son in Iraq.
After this confrontation, Lipscomb is overcome by grief. Moore films her doubled over in tears.
Still in tears, Lipscomb stares at the White House: “I
Moore at the Capitol building, trying to enlist Congresspeople’s children in the Iraq war.
Moore returns to the beginning images of this administration preparing for their roles in this film. Here as the National Security Advisor removes her ear piece, she also signals the end of the film.
One of the methods Moore uses is simply talking to the U.S. public. In the first three-fourths of the film, Moore essentially allows for Bush and his cabinet to set up the story. Moore then cuts away from this political-speak by focusing in on an ordinary American. One woman mourning. One woman with a face and a voice.
When Moore begins to discuss the 9/11 Commission created to investigate the attacks on September 11th, he takes his viewers through several quick cuts to provide a backstory of the situation telling his viewers that Bush tried to block Congress’s investigation. Moore cuts from this to tell his viewers that Congress did complete its own investigation, but that the White House censored 28 pages. According to Moore’s source, these censored pages directly related to Saudi Arabia. When Bush is asked whether he will testify in front of the commission, Bush says he'll be happy to “visit” with them.
Moore breaks from this political swirl of news reports and presidential interviews and introduces his viewers to Rosemary Dillard who was widowed on the day of the attacks.
“I need to know what happened to him,” she says. “That man was my life and I have no plan... and if I'm not doing something with this, I don’t know what reason I have to live.” She moves away from the camera with tears in her eyes.
Moore reminds his viewers that through all of the politics of the situation, through all of the censoring of information and the blocking of commissions, there are real people out there still reeling from this tragedy. People who are still trying to put the pieces of their lives back together. People, Moore seems to be saying, who deserve to have answers. And he presents himself as their advocate.
In the last one-third of the film, Moore allows for these ordinary people to have more than just a voice, more than just 20 seconds of screen time, he allows for one of them to tell her story.
Here is Lila Lipscomb. She describes her family as the backbone of America. This county was built on the backs of her people and people like hers. She talks of her supporting the armed services because the military has provided a way for her children to become independent, to find a way out of Flint, Michigan. And she is proud of her children’s commitment to the United States, beaming when she talks about her daughter’s service in the first Gulf War and her son’s service in the current war on Iraq. We see the U.S. flag flying in her front yard, a pin of the U.S. flag attached to her lapel.
At this point in the film, Moore has already given his viewers the scary sense that several of the teenagers in this town do consider heading overseas to fight in this war because this could be their chance to get out of Flint. Already he has followed two recruiters around the parking lot of some mega-shopping center to corner young men and ask them to sign up. Already he has placed a circle around the type of people attracted to the armed services: they are young, innocent and poor. This “voluntary” service is not “voluntary” to them. It is a practical way out. Lipscomb and her son become the tangible example of this.
Lipscomb’s perspective, though, seems surprising in the face of all of this. But when her son Michael Pedersen dies in a helicopter crash in Iraq, Moore is there to show Lipscomb’s change in attitude. She reads the last letter her son sent home, tears flooding her eyes:
“I cannot wait to get back to home and back to my life... and I'll see my first nephew soon, as soon as I get back to the States,” Pedersen wrote. But this will never happen.
Moore personalizes this war. More important, he does something that seems unMoore-like. Rather than running after the good joke, Moore deviates from his norm to entertain his viewers with a different genre—with melodrama, a genre that highlights women’s struggling in a society through a narrative charged with emotion. Everything about a melodrama is created to highlight emotion, from costumes to lighting to music to set design. Like traditional melodrama, Moore films Lipscomb in dress similar to his, in jeans and t-shirts. He shows Lipscomb in her kitchen sipping her coffee or in her front yard displaying her U.S. flag.
However, even this storyline has been manipulated for his audience. Moore admits he knew of Lipscomb only after her son had been killed in Iraq. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly he says,
And when Moore reveals the moment of her son’s death, Moore has decided to film this with all of her children sitting around her, her husband gently placing his hand on her back as she reads Pedersen’s last letter home. Moore suddenly has a narrative arc. The conflict is not simply Moore’s frustration with the political situation, but Lipscomb’s grief.
Rather than cutting and pasting images quickly together, when Lipscomb appears on the screen, she is given long takes. In fact, even Moore begins to appear more frequently when Lipscomb is present in the frame than at any other time. Not only is she speaking, like all of the other interviewees, but she is speaking to him. The camera also pulls in to show close-ups of Lipscomb wringing her hands when she talks about the death of her son, or of her face when the tears start falling after she has read her son’s last letter home.
Moore includes this excessive emotion so that, at this point, we don’t need Michael Moore voiceovers or quick cuts or funny lines because this one story speaks for itself. What viewers sometimes fail to remember is that truth and fact in film are almost nonexistent. Something captured on film has already been manipulated, sometimes staged with the filmmaker having the power to include as well as exclude quotes, people, images, angles, scenes. If film is being funneled through someone’s perspective, how can it be fact (or truth for that matter)?
Is this what the conservative press fears? That Moore can entertain too easily and in a time when society is thirsty for the truth, for information with no spin attached?
“It is not a documentary which seeks to present the facts truthfully,” wrote Ed Koch, former mayor of New York City. “The most significant offense that movie commits is to cheapen the political debate by dehumanizing the President and presenting him as a cartoon.”
Nearing the end of the film, Moore returns to the images he started with in the opening credits. Here is Condoleezza Rice removing her earpiece. Here is John Ashcroft exiting the frame. Here is Colin Powell removing his earpiece. This acts as a trigger to the audience: We have come full circle. But Moore also seems to be implying that now is the time for this administration’s charade to end.
Maybe what the conservative press really fears is the ultimate impact of Moore’s tactics. Bush’s Presidency was born out of controversy within a country that has felt divided by the Democrat and Republican parties. Maybe what the conservative press fears is Moore successfully targeting the 18-29 year-old population by using humor and aligning himself as the average American. Youth represents a population known to take the liberal side of political issues but a population weak in actually voting. Are they afraid that Moore will convince this age group that now is the time to cast a ballot and dethrone the Republican Party?
Now, after the 2004 presidential election has yielded George W. Bush as the winner of both the popular and the electoral vote, Moore’s comments the night of the 2003 Academy Awards seem far away, and the intensely heated debate over Fahrenheit 9/11 seems to have fizzled out. Bush is no longer a fictitious President, he is the real President-elect.
But Moore will continue to push after controversy.
And Michael Moore will provide that truth. Right?