Capitalism: A Love Story: Film Review

November 11, 2009

Michael Moore’s documentary, Capitalism: A Love Story, is his most sophisticated and cohesive work yet. The subject matter is broad and impressive, and yet the scene choices are never gratuitous, and the film sticks solidly to its theme from beginning to end. But is it really a love story? Yes, it is.

Call it “Fatal Attraction: The Wall Street Version.” Country meets economic system, country falls in love with economic system, economic system cheats on country, and country gets hurt.

Mr. Moore deftly introduces the traditional definition of capitalism, the one we associate with democracy and with America: capitalism is a system of free enterprise under which all Americans can choose whatever job they want and then climb as high as they wish on the economic ladder to happiness.

After describing his own childhood as being quite close to that fairy tale existence, he goes on to explain what happened to change old-time capitalism into the warped system we have today.

Moore takes us back to July 15, 1979 for Jimmy Carter’s “Crisis of Confidence” Speech–also known as the “malaise” speech–in which then-President Carter stated that “Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns.” These words are, sadly, even truer now than they were in 1979.

Next, Moore dumps us into the Reagan years, where the latest wave of the corruption of capitalism began. We experience the 1980s Savings and Loan debacle, the rise of Henry Paulson, and the influence of Alan Greenspan before arriving at the bailout of 2008. Moore spends time with the sincere protesters at the Republic Windows and Doors Company sit-in. And he gives us many stories of common people: bereaved family members who find out their dead loved ones’ company cheated them, and families suffering the indignities of home foreclosure.

The pathos in the foreclosure scenes comes from the undeniable certainty that the people losing their homes are not “bums” but people who want to work and just happened to fall on hard times. In one encounter, a bank employee coming to evict a family tells them something to the effect of “pay your bills and this won’t happen.” It is entirely obvious that these people would love to pay their bills, if someone would just tell them how to make that possible.

Moore’s inclusion of the Jesus angle–would Jesus be a capitalist?–adds to his already rich presentation of the immorality of capitalism. So often, we see and hear people using Christ as a shill for Republican “family values;” it is good to see and hear Michael Moore correct those people and remind us that Jesus espoused a different set of values–the ones in the Beatitudes (e.g., “Blessed are the meek,/for they will inherit the earth.”).

Dr. Jonas Salk, FDR, Moore’s own father–these figures and many more, including the feisty and admirable Ohio Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, add to the depth and clarity of the film’s overall message.

And what is that message? Well, like people who fall in love with a pretty face and then learn that it masks an evil personality, many people who fell in love with the “I can have a slice of the pie” version of capitalism are falling out of love with the greedy monster it has become.

People are realizing that, within the present-day corruption of capitalism, not everyone is free to take any job and climb the ladder of success. People are becoming aware that the super-wealthy at the top of the ladder are removing rungs and watching the rest of us tumble to the ground. And people are learning that the super-wealthy do not care whether the rest of us ever get a chance to climb the ladder again.

As Michael Moore says at the end of the film, join him in denouncing what capitalism has become, in whatever way you can. This love story needs all of us to give it a happy ending.

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