(This column was first published in the February 10, 2003 issue of The Buffalo News.)
One reason my wife and I seldom go to movies is our differing tastes. We rarely agree on what to see so we simply stay home.
So it was quite unusual for me to head off to a theater twice in the past month. I did so because I thought that the films being shown related to this column. They did, but sadly only one lived up to expectations.
That one was director Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine. I join Oprah Winfrey in recommending this as a "must see." Unfortunately, it remains at only one or two local theaters.
This is in many of its episodes a very funny motion picture but other scenes are at once tragic and deeply moving. After all, this film's centerpiece is the massacre of students at Columbine High School in Colorado. In one sequence, for example, we are shown pictures taken by a video monitor of students racing to seek at least the illusion of safety by hiding under tables in that high school cafeteria.
But two segments of the movie I found hilarious. The movie's initial scene shows Moore opening an account at a bank which offers one of a large selection of rifles to new customers. Before leaving, rifle in hand, Moore says to a bank officer, "Well, here's my first question: Do you think it's a little dangerous handing out guns in a bank?"
In the other he talks with a group of hunters who had dressed up their dog in hunting regalia to take its picture. That wasn't enough so they slung one of their guns over the dog's shoulder. The gun promptly discharged into the leg of one of the hunters. Deadpan, Moore asks the hunters if they thought the dog shot on purpose.
What is so remarkable about Bowling for Columbine, however, is the fact that the film is not an anti-gun screed. Its critics - with the NRA in the forefront - have missed Moore's point. This motion picture is another form of the NRA's own credo: Guns don't kill people; people kill people. Even its title makes that point. You might just as well blame the Columbine incident on the killers' having gone bowling that morning as on the guns they used.
His position is argued by a comparison of the United States with Canada, where the number of guns per household far exceeds ours yet their number of gun deaths is less than 1/60 of ours. A Windsor, Ontario police officer recalls just one recent shooting, but he adds that the shooter was from their neighboring city, Detroit.
Our real problem is our culture of fear, strongly enhanced by the march of frightening video images across our television screens and our children's arcade games. Canada, on the other hand is a more open society. Moore finds (by trying them) that many Canadians even leave the doors to their homes unlocked.
Yes, the NRA is criticized, but rightly for holding rallies immediately after the Detroit murder of one schoolchild by another and after Columbine.
The other film, Adaptation, derives from Susan Orlean's excellent book, The Orchid Thief and, although a few beautiful orchids do make an appearance, the film's only good part is the depiction of Orlean's title character, John Larouche by actor Chris Cooper. He richly deserved, as Meryl Streep who plays Orlean in this film did not, his Golden Globe Award for a supporting role.
Sadly because of its rich possibilities, I recommend this film to no one. I found its gratuitous use of foul language and even worse references beyond the pale, and the last five minutes a complete departure from reality.-- Gerry Rising