Film: Bowling for Columbine

"Is America a nation of gun nuts? Or just nuts?"

Bowling for Columbine is a 2002 award-winning documentary film by Michael Moore, which examines the effects of gun violence in the United States, and attempts to give a reason for the motivation of the killers involved in the Columbine massacre.

The film explores what Moore suggests are the causes for the Columbine High School massacre and other acts of violence with guns. He focuses on the background and environment in which the massacre took place, and some common public opinions and assumptions about related issues. The film also looks into the nature of violence in the United States.

Moore talks to many people — including South Park co-creator Matt Stone, the National Rifle Association's then-president Charlton Heston, and musician Marilyn Manson — as he seeks to explain why the Columbine massacre occurred, and why the United States has a high violent crime rate (especially crimes involving guns).

It won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2003, where Moore infamously criticized president George W. Bush in his acceptance speech. It caused a lot of controversy, but also drew more international attention to Moore and the film.

This film provides examples of:

  • Bank Toaster: Moore opens a bank account and receives a free rifle. He cut out the part where he waited to clear a background check, though.
  • Canada, Eh?: Subverted; Canada is portrayed in the film as a very sensible (and very laid-back) society, where all the kids go to movie theatres, Windsor is a great place to live, and no one locks his door. Some of the people interviewed do have slightly noticable accents, though.
  • Could This Happen to You?: Spoken by several reporters during a montage of news broadcast clips. Lampshaded by Moore, who accuses the news media of using this trope to frighten its audience and help to create a culture of fear and xenophobia in America.
  • Documentary Of Lies: Moore was called out for editing the responses of some interviewees to say the opposite of what they meant.
    • In another scene, Moore goes to a bank which was giving away a free rifle to anyone who opened an account with them. The bank clerk is shown handing a rifle to Moore immediately after he opens an account, no questions asked. This was staged; what the bank actually handed out was a certificate for a free rifle at a gun store down the street, and the gun store performed the same background checks and waiting-period requirements as if a customer had walked in to buy a rifle with cash. Even without this knowledge, one bit should clue you in: Moore immediately cuts to the title sequence after asking the guy who gives him the gun "Don't you think it's a little dangerous handing out guns in a bank?" because the answer would dispell the illusion.
    • The scene with Charlton Heston, in which Moore pleads for Heston not to go away. Heston in general gets a really bad misrepresentation, with Moore making it seem like he chased after tragedies to hold "big pro-gun rallies" (he never did, a fact that can be corroborated by many official accounts). Heston also had cancer and Alzheimer's by this point, but then again he was also head of the organization so his health problems don't really provide an excuse for his actions.
    • Infamously, an interview with Matt Stone is featured right before an animated segment done in a style very reminiscent of South Park. Not only did Stone (or South Park Studios) have no hand whatsoever in making the segment, but he thought the argument it presented was complete bullshit, leading to he and Trey Parker putting a major Take That at Moore in Team America: World Police. On the flip-side, Stone conceded that aside from the implications of the animated segment, Moore did truthfully represent his views and that he actually liked Roger And Me by Moore.
    • It's a small thing overall, but in Canada, most places don't have constantly unlocked doors. Especially not in larger cities like Toronto or Calgary.
  • DVD Commentary: By Moore's interns and secretary, no less.
  • Extended Disarming: At one point a clip from a video made to sell school administrators on uniforms (and/or metal detectors) is shown with a teenager pulling about half a dozen pistols out of the pockets and waistband of his baggy jeans, what looks like a MAC-11 submachine gun and its separate mag, and finally a shotgun that was in his pants. It's not clear how the kid could walk without clanking, let alone nonchalantly with that much metal on him and the shotgun acting like a leg brace. In fact, he couldn't; the scene was staged for maximum scare value.
  • Film the Hand: Several times, most notably by Dick Clark and Charlton Heston, who leaves his interview with Moore and walks away, slamming a door behind him.
  • Hitler Ate Sugar: The point of the title. Moore points out that media watchdogs and social commentary pundits were alarmingly quick to point towards all sorts of societal influences that supposedly caused Harris and Klebold's rampage, including video games, bullying, violent movies, and the like. He notes that all of the things listed are enormously popular in other countries that have violent crime rates far below that of the United States, then questions if they might as well blame the sport of bowling for what happened, as both killers were attending school classes in bowling and even played a game the morning before the shooting.
  • Hyperspace Arsenal: A student demonstrates how someone could walk into a school with a weapon unnoticed by removing more than a dozen guns and rifles from his pants. However, the amount of guns is incredibly unrealistic, as the student would only be able to walk very slowly at best, if he could even walk at all because of the field-length (and, we might add, NOT DESTOCKED) shotgun in one leg. If he hadn't blown his entire lower body apart from all the guns, a lot of which were in pretty unsafe places, it was a miracle. This is shown to demonstrate the culture of fear that news channels were coming up with.
  • Lost Aesop: This is something that a lot of gun enthusiasts and right wingers seem to glare over. Michael Moore does criticize the right to bear arms, yes, but he doesn't outright claim that all these violent murders and accidents in the USA are just the result of people owning guns or having easy access to them. He investigates this hypothesis, but honestly shows the audience that other countries, like Canada, also have a right to bear arms, yet have fewer gun-related incidents compared to the USA. In the second half of the documentary he links the scared triggerhappy behaviour of American gunowners to the American media who provides a lot of paranoid Media Scare making people think their society is actually far more dangerous than it actually is. He implies that the media mostly does this to gain higher ratings and to make people so scared that they buy more stuff to protect themselves. By the way this also more or less what Marilyn Manson [Only Sane Man according to TV Tropes] says.
    • Probably the most accurate interpretation is that Moore didn't go into the film to try and convince you "guns are bad" at all, but with the intent of DISCOVERING what the source of America's gun violence problem is and chronicling the investigation.
  • Manipulative Editing: As is common with many documentaries made in the USA, both by people with left and right wing political agenda's.
  • Montage
  • Moral Guardians: They are shown in a montage sequence and Moore investigates all the things the media claimed where the inspiration behind the murders.
  • The New Rock & Roll: Mocked heavily by Moore during the film. He also subverts this by actually interviewing two people who frightened Moral Guardians, Marilyn Manson and Matt Stone (co-creator of South Park), and showing that they are actually normal, intelligent people of whom you shouldn't be afraid of at all.
  • Only Sane Man: Bizarrely, Marilyn Manson comes across as this. This isn't even the first time it has happened in relation to Columbine. Not so bizarre if you actually know enough about the man. Beyond his rock persona, he's a surprisingly thoughtful and well-spoken person.
  • Pillow Pistol: Moore interviews James Nichols, the brother of Oklahoma City bombing perpetrator Terry Nichols, who keeps a gun tucked under his pillow every night.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis: Thanks to this film Marilyn Manson's public image changed from a grotesque Satanic antichrist feared by Moral Guardians to somebody whom many were surprised to learn is actually a very intelligent and articulate normal human being.
  • Quote Mine: The movie was accused of this with Charlton Heston; observant viewers noticed that his clothes changed during a single speech.
    • They also cut his post-Columbine speech at the line "we're already here," making his point (that NRA members were part of the emergency personnel of the tragedy) sound more like a smarmy mockery of his anti-gun opponents.
  • Scary Black Man: Lampshaded heavily during a segment on the American news media.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World" plays over footage of the atrocities by various US-backed regimes. The same song also plays over the end credits, but in a cover of Joey Ramone from his solo album Don't Worry About Me.
  • Title Drop: Moore's next-to-the-very-final line of narration.
  • Walking Armory: A clip from a metal detector manufacturer is shown arguing for the institution of a dress code in schools. To demonstrate how casual dress is dangerous, the sequence shows an adolescent boy pulling about half a dozen pistols out of his pockets and waistband, what looks like a MAC-11 submachine gun and its separate mag, and finally a shotgun that was in his pants. It's not clear how the kid could walk nonchalantly with a shotgun down the leg of his trousers. In fact, he couldn't; the scene was staged for maximum scare value.
  • You Can Panic Now: Seen in a montage during the film.
  • Your Door Was Open: In Canada. All the time.