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May 23, 2016

Where to Invade Next

by Franz Patrick

Where to Invade Next (2015)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Say what you will about documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, but there is no denying that he knows how to construct a thesis, gather supporting details of his aims and claims, and tie them all up in such a way that is clear, sharp, and precise. “Where to Invade Next” is humorous and eye-opening, often simultaneously, and it is required viewing for those who genuinely believe that America can and should do better for those who live in it.

Moore goes on a journey west of the United States to “invade” other countries. In a nutshell, he aims to capture how it is like in other nations who have, for example, free healthcare or free university tuition or at least eight weeks paid vacation per year, and “take” these ideas back home so that the U.S. can, hopefully, aspire to become an improved nation. On the surface, the approach is rather tongue-in-cheek but if one were to take a magnifying glass and really look at the issues, one would realize the brilliance of the documentary: it is a savage criticism of the current state of affairs in America, the land of the free.

Each country Moore visits has a specific subject. For instance, a visit in Italy focuses on the many benefits the working people get in a given year. We learn specifics. When a woman is pregnant, businesses are required to give her about five months of paid maternity leave. A group of people we meet get two hours lunch every day and they actually go home and share a meal with their families. During December, people get an extra month of pay—December pay is meant to cover the bills and the extra pay is to help afford a vacation.

Being an American, I watched in complete shock, mouth agape, at the many positive qualities these countries offer. I relished the visit in Finland, the most literate nation in the world, where college tuition is free. Moore interviews some Americans who choose to study there. And then there is France, a country where it provides schoolchildren four-course meals—the kind of meals that would put most American restaurants to shame. And that particular school Moore visits, as it turns out, is actually one of the poorest in the district.

Most affecting are a handful of moments where people from various countries look straight to camera to say what they think of America or give a message that they hope can lead us in the right direction. Three cops in Portugal, a country where drug use has been decriminalized, claim that we should abolish the death penalty because “human dignity is the most important thing in life.” There is no human dignity in capital punishment. The sheer power of their words, and how they deliver it, reverberate throughout the picture especially during an interview with a father in Norway whose son had been murdered by a gunman.

Written, directed, and produced by Michael Moore, “Where to Invade Next” is consistently surprising, funny, ironic, and has a flair for dramatization. But somewhere in the early-middle I found my amusement turning into anger and frustration because I was reminded by the many fundamental factors that are flat-out wrong with America. We have the knowledge and ability to do and become more, so why is it that we are not progressing as fast or as much as we are capable of? One has to wonder if the American Dream is really but a dangling carrot.


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