Movie Review: Where to Invade Next
By Ben Gruchow
February 25, 2016
The conceit of Where to Invade Next feels like a logical extension of Michael Moore’s previous work: after four documentaries that presented disturbing implications with regard to firearms, the Bush administration, the state of American healthcare, and deregulation of financial firms - while in themselves being concise and well-produced arguments that occasionally veered very close to the polemic, Moore has now decided to just go all-out and travel to several European countries (places with names he can “mostly pronounce”, as he puts it in the opening pitch narration) in order to harvest their best social and political practices for American adoption.
It’s perhaps the most frivolous concept out of all Moore’s work, on its face; each of his prior documentaries were made in the aftermath of a national crisis or conflict, and Where to Invade Next finds him in a more contemplative, optimistic and even playful mood. This gives the material a far lower emotional temperature than a normal installment of his work, although he’s still prone to evoking pessimistic statements about the subject at hand - here, as before, with a dominant social or cultural theme juxtaposed with its relevant iteration in the United States.
This relative light-heartedness takes a little bit of time to show up, and the opening sequences - cutting together audio emphasizing righteous cultural identity with video showcasing the worst (police brutality) and most incongruous (TSA patdowns of small children) manifestations of that identity - put us on tonal ground we last trod in 2009 with Capitalism: A Love Story. In an election year, to showcase audio from our leaders pledging no effort spared in hobbling our enemies, and to overlay that on video of minority voters in long lines outside of voting locations, with the tagline “Voter Suppression” in a news feed at the bottom of the screen, is a move designed to strike a chord. And strike a chord it does; we are reminded that Moore is entirely willing to make a point with a darkly-comic blunt instrument, and he’s good at wielding that instrument. Finesse doesn’t matter much to him, although he’s quite capable of it.
As we progress and Moore begins his tour of Europe, though, the tone lightens; the participants in his interviews are largely citizens of each country, and we are told mostly about the advantages one has as an employee in Italy (nearly a month of paid vacation, annual bonus); a public-school child in France (school meals that look better and healthier than most restaurant-prepared dishes); a college student in Slovenia (free higher education); a woman in Tunisia (free, equal access to contraceptive care and women’s services). There are others, related to healthcare and prison rehabilitation, but the message clarifies itself pretty early on: these are considered basic services in other developed countries, but not in our own, and citizens of these developed countries are unilaterally better off for them.
It’s a solid, appealing message, created and molded to spur an instinct to action in the American viewer: why, as a member of one of the most powerful nations on the planet, do we offer only a fraction of these services to our people? There is a persuasive argument made by Where to Invade Next early on, where it tallies our federal and state taxes and judges them to be moderately lower than those paid in the European Union, and then re-classifies our out-of-pocket expenses - on college, on medical care - as additional taxes, stating that we merely call them a different name. Under this new logic, we pay far more than other developed countries…and we don’t even get the best quality of life.