Maybe it’s no surprise that it took Michael Moore to rouse me from my blogging slump, because let’s face it, the dude is really irritating. But he’s also a pretty good filmmaker, so I was pleasantly surprised that his latest film was less annoying than I expected it to be.
(My expectations were also inspired by Mark Kermode, whose opinion I generally respect:)
Where Dr. Kermode is absolutely correct is that the conceit is ridiculous – going around the world to collect great ideas is a great idea, but doing so with a flag representing the star-spangled banner is just stupid, and “planting” said flag as a sign of “stealing” that idea is North American obnoxiousness at its worst (not to mention the finale, which highlights that each of the ideas is in fact American in origin, so in fact #whothefuckneedstherestoftheworld?).
But the film was thoughtful and thought-provoking in terms of providing perspective, which I think is one of the things that us humans are pretty bad at. We get caught up in our own worlds, either persuading ourselves that it’s the best, or the worst, and that alternatives don’t exist. But they do – like Finland’s school system, which assigns no homework, and churns out some of the brightest, most adjusted people on the planet. Or French children, who learn to appreciate food and company by sitting through a three-course lunch every day at school. Or Italian factory workers, who get 8 weeks of paid leave a year, and a two-hour lunch to go home and cook and hang out with their families before going back to the slog of factory work. Or Norway, where convicted murderers in maximum security prisons live in fantastic, clean environments where the key punishment is having no access to their family and friends, and prison guards don’t carry guns (“words are our weapons”, they say).
I found it enlightening, and also depressing in the way that it made me desperate to live in a place that systematises life stuff that actually strives to make everyone – children and criminals alike – the best that they can be.
Perspective can be a fantastic thing. Consider the awesome women divers of the Korean island of Jeju, whose average age is mid-70s, and who dive to catch fish with no breathing gear. They sing a song before getting into the freezing water, and have a magic spell that they put on dolphins to make them flip over so they (the mermaids) don’t get hurt by the dolphins’ fins. They’d rather be in the water than sitting in an old age home watching TV and feeling decrepit and useless. That rocks.