The title of Michael Moore‘s Where To Invade Next, which had its big debut last night at Toronto’s Princess of Wales theatre, suggests some kind of satirical jeremiad against American military interventionism over the last six or seven decades. Nope — it’s actually an amusing, alpha-wavey, selectively factual love letter to the kind of European Democratic socialism that Bernie Sanders has been espousing for years. And it’s funny and illuminating and generally soothing (unless you’re a rightie). A distributor I know called it “toothless,” which is arguably true if you want to put it that way, but the film is engaging in an alpha, up-with-people sense. It’s basically an argument in favor of “we” values and policies over the “me and mine” theology that lies of the heart of the American dream.
The primary theme of Sanders’s domestic philosophy is that benefits for working Joes are far more bountiful in many European countries (France, Italy, Finland, Norway, Slovenia, Portugal), and that we should try to humanize American life by instituting some of their social policies. He’s talking higher taxes, yes, but guaranteed health care, free universities, longer vacations (up to 35 days per year in Italy), a far less predatory work environment, better school-cafeteria food, more relaxation and apparently more sex, etc.
By any semi-humane measuring stick this is a much more attractive, more dignity-affirming way of life — imperfect and fraught with the usual problems, but far preferable, it seems, to the ruggedly Darwinian, rough-and-tumble, wealth-favoring oligarchial system that Americans are currently saddled with.
Moore simplifies like any documentarian trying to reach a mass audience. I’m sure there are many, many problems in Democratic socialist countries that he’s ignoring and then some. As Screen Daily‘s Allan Hunter notes, “Some of the people who actually live in those countries might find [Moore’s] views a little starry-eyed and unsophisticated.” But I strongly doubt that Moore has fabricated anything here.
Yes, life is hard everywhere — complex, unfair to varying degrees and often fraught with uncertainty. Nothing anywhere is easy or simple, but it’s hard to argue with Moore’s comparisons between European social democratic systems and the standard American bullshit that we’re all too familiar with — wealth-porn lifestyles, survival of the fittest, live is hard and then you die, individual glory over the collective good plus par-for-the-course racism, junk food and obesity, gradual ecological ruin through fossil fuels, corporate domination of nearly everything.
The American right will hate this film, of course, and when it comes out (possibly in the spring or summer of ’16) they’ll no doubt deliver a torrent of counter-arguments and counter-statistics that undermine Moore’s presentation. We all know that Moore doesn’t assemble impartial assessments — he has a left-liberal humanist point of view, and he entertainingly “sells” that. But the enviable situations and conditions presented in Where To Invade Next are not fantasy — they’re as real as Ferguson or the California drought or anything else.
Where To Invade Next is also a beguiling valentine to the idea of more women holding elective office, running governmental operations and managing money. Interestingly, Hunter and Variety‘s Justin Chang have both interpreted the film more as an endorsement of a Hillary Clinton than a Sanders presidency — in fact their reviews don’t even mention Bernie.
Chang: “Liberals and conservatives alike may take the cynical view that Moore’s climactic visit to Iceland, known for its pioneering tradition of strong female leadership, effectively recasts the movie as a stealth Hillary Clinton campaign promo.” Hunter: “Moore sees the greatest hope for change lies so often in the power of women to make a difference. It isn’t a direct endorsement of Hillary Clinton but it might not do her chances any harm.”
And in Iceland, Moore’s doc points out, the one bank that didn’t go under during the ’08 financial crisis was one run by women. And the financial flim-flammers and speculative ne’er-do-wells who crashed the Icelandic economy in ’08 were actually given prison sentences. How many of the Wall Street sharks who were behind the same meltdown have been slapped with any kind of imprisonment or serious penalties? Yeah, exactly.
There’s talk about Moore’s film coming out this year, but I think it’ll work better as a 2016 release (spring or summer) as it’ll blend right in with election-year debates about domestic policies.