Michael Moore's amusing, suggestive new movie asks the question "Where to invade next?" Moore reverses the colonization of America by going back to Europe to find ideas that would improve the United States, then concludes that his improvement ideas are actually innovations American in origin!
Intrepid, blustering, larger than life Moore takes his self-reflexive expedition on a very American road trip. In Italy he finds Italian workers receive far longer vacations and maternity leaves than their American counterparts. CEOs and Factory Managers support these benefits because the reduction in stress and increase in happiness improves the production of the workers.
French school children are fed sumptuous healthy meals and attend school for barely half the time of their American counterparts. German youth and adults confront and take responsibility for the historical mistakes of their nation, particularly the Holocaust. The honesty and thoroughness with which they confront the past makes them far better citizens than their many American children whose textbooks are censored and distorted into denying responsibility for less savory aspects of U.S. development and exertion of power.
In scenes both comical and compelling, Moore finds forgiveness in Norway's prison system that achieves rehabilitation rather than recidivism for even the most heinous offenses.
The apotheosis of Moore's mission, however, is identified in Iceland. In 1975, Iceland's women briefly went on strike to increase their political and economic clout. Five years later, Iceland elected Vigdís Finnbogadóttir its first woman head of state. The only bank in Iceland that did not collapse during the 2008 World Economic Depression was the one founded and run by women. His final important lesson is learning from the women in Iceland the lessons of democratization and inclusion.
But as he returns home, Michael Moore seems stunned with the realization that all of what he has learned abroad has American roots. Perhaps with enough nutrients and water, we can make them grow again. Here Moore underestimates the task at hand. More than weeding and cultivating is needed.
We need a new path through the garden. Although attractive to many, not all would welcome these changes as heroic. Some of the ideas have roots deeper in the French and Russian than American Revolution. The very fact that once promising practices were dismantled and destroyed suggests that their abandonment served powerful forces that the film maker largely chooses to sidestep.
Moore does a skillful, clever and entertaining job reminding us of self-improvement possibilities. But we'll need more than Rick Steves or Home Depot to complete the task.