Movie Reviews

Movie Review: Bowling for Columbine – James Nichols Should Never Be Allowed Near a Spitball Shooter

Written by Michael Moore
Directed by Michael Moore

I’ll start right off by saying that for most of my years, I never owned a gun. Living in New York, I never felt the need to own a gun for self-defense. I always felt that if I felt so unsafe that I felt the need to own a gun, I would move. So what did I do? I moved to a place where one of the first things I did was buy a gun.

My issue wasn’t a fear of the people who lived around me, but rather having to worry about wild animals. Bears have come and ripped apart our garbage, and a couple of times we’ve walked outside to unexpectedly find one in close proximity. Usually, they just run away, but I’d rather be safe than sorry.

In two years, I went from never owning a gun to owning four.

So maybe I would have made a good subject for Michael Moore’s film Bowling for Columbine if he were making it now.

I think a lot of people dismiss this movie without seeing it, feeling that it’s anti-gun. It’s not, really. I saw it as trying to figure out the root cause of what happened at Columbine High School. Was it society’s fascination with guns? Violence in movies and video games? The music these kids listen to? The media and our culture of fear? Our aggressive nature with other nations around the world?

The statistics say we are a violent nation. Moore shows this through the footage and statistics, as well as specific events that have happened where innocent people were killed for no apparent reason other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Moore brings up how many guns there are in Canada, yet the murder rate and shooting rate are considerably less than here. He admits to having grown up in a family that had a healthy number of guns belonging to various members. He has also been a member of the NRA. I did not feel threatened at all while watching this even as someone who has only purchased weapons in the last few years.

Moore sets the beginning of the film in his home state of Michigan, pointing out its fascination with guns and hunting. James Nichols, brother of Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols is from a town in Michigan right next door to where Moore grew up. He admits to having blasting caps and fertilizer on his farm but denies any connection to the bombing. As Moore has done in other films, he just lets Nichols talk without any prodding, and the result pretty much says it all about why someone like him shouldn’t be allowed near a gun.

And that was my thought over and over again as Moore is interviewing people and letting them speak: Why does this person have the right to own a weapon? Why does this person have access to a weapon? I’m leery of why some of them should be anywhere other than a padded rubber room, never mind having access to weapons that fire hundreds of rounds in a clip.

Moore then travels to Colorado and shows how the town of Littleton is a typical town in many ways. However, the town seems to live in a culture of fear. He stops to talk to a man with deep feelings about what happened at Columbine who has a typical middle-class home with gates on the windows. I lived just outside of New York City and I never felt the need to have gates on my windows.

I didn’t feel the footage of Michael Moore getting a free gun for opening an account at the bank was exploitative. Rather, I thought it was a way of showing how our fascination with guns as a culture permeates something like this – that a weapon could be used as a means of enticement. I mean, it used to be a free toaster when you opened an account. Now it’s a gun?

Many reviewers have decried how Moore allegedly exploits Charlton Heston. Yet isn’t that exactly what Heston and the NRA did by insensitively having a pro-gun rally in Colorado less than two weeks after the shootings took place? Just seeing the smug look on Heston’s face during the rally made me feel that Moore didn’t have to do anything to make Heston look like an insensitive jerk. Even South Park’s Matt Stone, who grew up in Littleton, weighs in that it was a stupid thing to do. Say what you will about Marilyn Manson, but at least he had the sensitivity to cancel concerts after the shooting at Columbine. I’m not weighing in on whether either of them has culpability, I’m just stating that there’s a time to put consideration of the community over your own personal agenda, or an organization’s agenda.

People get stupid with guns, as is demonstrated by the hunters who think it’s funny to attach a gun to a dog, and then the gun went off, injuring one of the members of the hunting party. Even though I know people who hunt and have no problem with it (I plan to be out there next year) I somehow thought this was sweet justice. If you are going to be that stupid with a weapon, you honestly deserve to get shot.

The hardest part for me was watching how Moore summed up all of the times the U.S. has involved themselves in other countries – staging coups and assassinations and installing leaders we think will be more friendly to us, only to have it backfire eventually. I wasn’t too sure how it tied into Columbine and gun violence, and I knew where he was going to go with the footage.

While Moore seems to be saying we’re a violent culture and our violent need to try to control the world – or at least make it more friendly to how we would like to see things evolve – pervades our culture and eventually trickles down to instances of violence like Columbine. I’m not sure I buy that. In fact, I really don’t buy it. Part of the problem is the unwillingness of schools to discipline kids they know are problems and expel them from school if necessary. The other problem is parents who are unwilling to discipline their child and makes excuses for them, rather than doing their jobs as parents and getting children with problems the help they need. I liked a lot of the points Matt Stone made about high school.

The overreaction after Columbine is highlighted, and then to think about how the Virginia Tech killer emitted all these warning signs that were blatantly ignored or outright dismissed.

We are being trained to fear all the time – fear of global warming and the weather, fear of our neighbors and what they might “really be”. Moore seems to get this when he begins talking about how the media sensationalizes things and seems to enjoy scaring viewers.

By far and away, this is not Michael Moore’s best work. Bowling for Columbine is disjointed and all over the place with its message. Instead of focusing on one central idea, the movie goes off on so many different tangents, I found myself thinking “what does this have to do with Columbine?” I think he started with a core idea and it just started branching off more and more and he tried to cover it all. When I was watching the special features, I thought he conveyed the subject matter and his feelings in a much more coherent and succinct manner during a clip from the Toronto Film Festival.

Unfortunately, the disorganization makes the movie very confusing to watch, especially in the first half hour or so. It doesn’t seem to know what it wants to say about Columbine, guns, violence, or society. What it does do is put a lot of facts out there as food for thought. I don’t think it deserved the Oscar, but I think it won the award more as a way Hollywood flipped off George Bush at the time, knowing how much he and his cohorts hate Michael Moore.

The title comes from the fact that the two killers at Columbine High School started that last day of their lives bowling. They weren’t contemplating what they were going to do; they weren’t nervously pacing and planning; they weren’t some religious wing-nuts praying for guidance. They were goofing off at a bowling alley. How does a culture breed two people who are so callous about taking another person’s life? That’s something everyone should struggle with, rather than simply dismissing the whole question outright because they don’t care for the person exploring it.


• Writer/Director Michael Moore’s Audio Introduction
• Receptionists’ and Interns’ Audio Commentary with Director’s Introduction
• Theatrical Trailer
• Exclusive: Michael Moore on His Oscar Win & Acceptance Speech
• Return to Denver/Littleton – 6 Months After the release of Bowling for Columbine
• Film Festival Scrapbook: Mike in Cannes, Toronto & London
• Marilyn Manson Music Video: Fight Song
• Teacher’s Guide
• Michael Moore Interviewed by Clinton Press Secretary Joe Lockhart at HBO’s U.S. Comedy Arts Festival
• Segment from “The Awful Truth II: Corporate Cops”
• Michael Moore on “The Charlie Rose Show”
• Mike’s Action Guide
• Staff and Crew Photo Gallery

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