Michael Moore, Bible Thumper

Photo: Patrick McMullan

He’s finally come right out and said it. In his new film, Michael Moore declares that he wishes to “eliminate” capitalism and replace it with collective ownership of the economy. But that’s hardly Capitalism: A Love Story’s most extreme formulation. The film is actually a veiled religious tract. What Moore has done with his current cinematic manifesto is to tell the Book of Revelation through an account of the recent financial crisis. In Revelation, the Satan-spawned Beast directs kings and merchants to exploit the labor of the earth’s inhabitants and kill vast swaths of the powerless “by sword, famine, and plague.” In America, according to Moore, a seemingly inhuman cabal of bankers, CEOs, and (mostly) Republicans has not only pillaged the earnings and tax payments of ordinary Americans but has actually made their deaths profitable—through life-insurance policies that corporations are taking out on their workers.

Moore has never been shy about the Christian basis of his politics. But in Capitalism, Moore deploys his Catholicism in ways that his progressive allies may find unsettling. Many of the talking heads in the film are Catholic clergy, including the bishop of Detroit, who proclaim capitalism to be a “sin” and “radically evil.” “Eventually,” one prophesies, “God will come down and eradicate it.”

The blunt moral power of Moore’s work has always derived from a very Catholic idea of sin. But in the current film, the salvation narrative is less veiled. In Revelation, the apocalyptic war between Satan’s minions and the great multitude ends with the coming from Heaven of an angel who vanquishes the Beast and builds the City of God. In Capitalism, Moore crashes the gates of corporations alone, because Americans either believe in a false dream of upward mobility or are too entranced by American Idol to get off the couch and join him.

Moore now appears headed for a cosmic battle with a competing messiah. Though the filmmaker campaigned hard for Obama, he notes in a late scene that the man who promised change was himself largely financed by the very sinners who brought us down. After a recent screening at the Toronto Film Festival, Moore threatened that “the next movie may be about him.”

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Michael Moore, Bible Thumper