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Film / Bowling for Columbine

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

Bowling for Columbine is a 2002 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).

As with Moore's other films, the accuracy of this film is often disputed, but it was nevertheless very successful, winning awards such as the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature and raising Moore's stature as a filmmaker on an international scale.

This film provides examples of:

  • Bank Toaster: Moore opens a bank account and receives a free rifle. Moore even questions how safe it is to be handing out guns at a bank.
  • 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 their front door. Some of the people interviewed do have slightly noticeable Canadian 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.
  • 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.
  • 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, and the subject of the movie. Moore argues that media watchdogs and social commentary pundits were alarmingly quick to point towards all sorts of societal influences that supposedly caused Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold's rampage, including video games, violent movies, and heavy metal music. Moore notes that all of those things are popular in countries besides America, yet all those other countries have violent crime rates far below that of America's violent crime rate. Moore questions if people 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 at a local bowling alley.
  • 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. This is shown to demonstrate the culture of fear that news channels were coming up with.
  • Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics: Moore exaggerates the level of gun violence in the United States through spurious use of statistics, specifically comparing the amount of gun-related deaths in several western countries by citing gross figures for each country and not per capita stats. Even aside from that, the numbers he cites didn't match any known independent studies. Eventually, it was revealed that he took US Government crime statistics for gun homicides, and added uses of guns for self-defense and the use of guns by police.
  • Manipulative Editing:
    • The opening scene featured a bank that offered a free rifle for opening a bank and showed him walk in, open the account, and then cut to him in the parking lot with said rifle in hand to imply the bank just handed it to him. Yeah... no. The bank actually did offer a free rifle in the form of a voucher you had to take to a participating sporting goods store to redeem, and you most definitely had to pass the background check and be legally entitled to own the firearm to begin with. Of course that's a pretty reasonable way to do things so the parking lot scene was filmed later and spliced in to "prove" Moore's point.
    • He showed what a heartless bastard Charlton Heston was for holding an NRA fundraiser in Colorado shortly after the Columbine massacre and gloating with the "cold, dead fingers" speech to mock the victims. While the NRA did indeed hold an event in Colorado (the organization's annual meeting) —because rescheduling it was legally impossible by that pointnote — sharp-eyed viewers may notice that Heston is wearing a different suit for the "cold dead fingers" line than he wears in the rest of the footage.
    • Another recurring and particularly blatant example is essentially any interview scene with a clock in the background of one or both participants. Mismatched times between the interviewer and the interviewee, not enough time elapsed between answers for the question presented to have been the one asked, time strangely jumping forward and backward in general... some of the complaints are not so much that the editing's manipulative as the insult to the viewer's intelligence implied by how obvious it sometimes is.
  • Mean Character, Nice Actor: Invoked. Marilyn Manson is presented this way, with the film contrasting his Shock Rock persona in a music video with a quiet and soft-spoken interview between Manson and Michael Moore.
  • Media Scaremongering: Seen in a news segments montage during the film. Although he is not quite as scathing towards them as the NRA or gun manufacturers, Moore criticizes the news media for stoking non-stop fear to boost ratings, and sees this as a major contributing factor to the number of gun deaths in the United States.
  • Moral Guardians: They are shown in a montage sequence and Moore investigates all the things the media claimed were the inspiration behind the murders. The interview with Marilyn Manson is also interspersed with scenes of protesters of a then-upcoming Manson concert, saying that Manson's concert would lead to deaths.
  • 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 at all. Manson in particular lampshades the accusations thrown his way, says this is relatively common for people like him, and that he would have listened to the killers' problems instead of yelling at them.
  • Only Sane Man: Marilyn Manson is presented this way in his interview with Michael Moore. The film contrasts Manson's on-stage/on-screen persona of a violent shock rocker with his off-stage self being much more eloquent, down-to-earth, and insightful. The interview is also contrasted with a right-wing activist saying an upcoming Manson concert will cause violence and death. Manson acknowledges that he got blamed for Columbine, but contends that he doesn't deserve it, saying that one could just as well blame then-president Bill Clinton for Columbine, since the same day of the shooting, the US military dropped bombs on Kosovo under Clinton's orders. Manson also says he would listen to the people of Columbine, because "that's what no one did".
  • 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 shifted from a grotesque Satanic antichrist to an intelligent, articulate, and insightful human being (albeit one with slightly eccentric tastes). The interview paints Manson as a Mean Character, Nice Actor; those who had never heard Manson's music before watching this film were presented with a much more human side of Manson.
  • Scary Black Man: Lampshaded during a segment on the American news media, which shows that black people were presented in much more negative lights than white people, often for the same offenses.
  • Shout-Out: At one point, Moore has a montage showing that other countries have the same interests and problems in America, such as broken families, genocidal history, violent movies and video games, and bowling, while saying that they have far lower gun violence rates. This is accompanied by Beethoven's 9th Symphony, similar to the brainwashing scene in A Clockwork Orange.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: In one of the film's most famous scenes, Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World" plays over footage of the atrocities of various US-backed regimes, concluding with the jarring juxtaposition of the song's blissful ending and the horrified screams of people witnessing a plane crash into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. 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 penultimate 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.
  • Your Door Was Open: In Canada, Moore shows how lackadaisical Canadians are about security by trying to open the front doors of various houses, and finds most of them unlocked.