The Parting of the Audience and Creators in the Bowling for Columbine
To reinforce the overarching message of the documentary, Moore explicitly vilifies ‘pro-gun’ ideals and characterises them into an effective antagonist that both defines the sense of morality for the audience and directs the focus of the film entirely. Throughout the film, footage and audio clips of Charlton Heston’s ‘pro-gun’ statements are interlaced with juxtaposing evidence presented by Moore in efforts to position the audience to question the validity of Heston’s beliefs. The inclusion of Heston throughout the documentary usually follows an emotive, yet localised event, serving as a method of redirecting the focus of the film back towards the proliferation of firearms in the United States as a whole. This is demonstrated as the story of Kayla is introduced, where Moore inputs the audio of the emergency call Kayla’s teacher made after the tragic shooting. Moore visualises this call for the audience with white subtitles over a plain, black screen with no narration or included footage.
As the teacher from Kayla’s school is comforted by Moore as she proceeds to emotionally break down, Heston’s line “From my cold, dead hands” is overlayed. This is an extremely effective way to humanise the tragedy, as it forces the audience to pay direct attention to the contents of the emotional emergency call, subsequently making Heston’s line have greater impact. The audience, after witnessing this primary example of ‘preventable’ gun-violence and after being directly presented with Heston’s apparent indifference, is now conditioned to detest Heston as an individual and collectively detest the N.R.A. The last interview featuring Heston further cements his position within the documentary as antagonist and the effect he has on shaping audience perspectives. From the beginning of this segment, Moore all but ambushes Heston, setting the stage for an uneasy discussion between the two that truly gets to the heart of the matter. He poses his questions in such a way that by answering them, Heston incriminates himself further. This is shown when Heston is asked whether American culture plays a part in the nation’s violence, a point that had already been disproven by statistics earlier in the film. However, as the questions Moore poses begin to get far more personal and accusatory, Heston closes the interview and walks away from Moore as he shows him the photograph of Kayla before her death. This segment increasingly vilifies Heston, accentuating his lack of care for those who have suffered from gun-violence in conjunction with his heavy ‘pro-gun’ beliefs, simultaneously portraying his views as barbaric and insensitive.
Released in 2002, Moore makes his point in a post-9/11 world as he uses many classical Hollywood techniques such as parallel editing, optical effects, and adjusting elements the of mis-en-scene that allow him to frame reality in his own way (Arthur). He clearly inserts himself into the interviews with those who agree with him, taking a more omniscient God’s-eye-view in those of his dissenters. It is obvious from the very beginning what the message is, and who is saying it. Michael Moore and the overall liberal point of view stands together to make a statement against the culture of fear the media, big business, and the government inculcates into the minds of America that has resulted in the tragedy of Columbine as well as countless other senseless acts of violence[A1].
By delineating the proposed “good guys” from the supposed “bad guys”, Bowling for Columbine divides both its audiences and its respondents into two distinct categories based upon their reactions. There is the gun-toting, conservative N.R.A lobbyists and the liberal, anti-gun protesters. Although some may find the film’s use of ambush interviews and contextual framing to be outright manipulation of reality, there is no denying that Michael Moore is a director with a unique style that allows him ideological converts by appealing both emotionally and logically to his audiences.
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