by Frederick J. Mow
This review was originally posted on The Plough on November 13, 2009
I viewed Capitalism: A Love Story in a basement movie house in Midtown Manhattan, down at the base of the Trump Towers. As I exited the theater and returned to street level, my surroundings and the message of the movie clashed dramatically. After two hours of witnessing the evils of capitalism or, as Michael Moore puts it, “legal greed,” I found myself looking up at the gleaming high-rises named after the country’s wealthiest developer, housing the 1% that live atop the pyramid….
Most days I don’t think much about it, but tonight the contrast is stark. I enter the subway and see those who belong to the bottom 1% settling down for a miserable night on wooden benches—pulling their wire shopping carts closer, and wrapping their ragged blankets a little tighter.
As someone who works with homeless New Yorkers on a daily basis, I can put names to people who have been squashed by capitalism and swept under its beautiful rug. I also witness daily the mad rush of those who have been caught up in the rat race for more here in the capital of the capitalist world. I’m no better—I also feel the universal pull of materialism at times, and the attractions of this city’s toxic pleasures. I am susceptible to its propaganda too. But this film has really made me think, and left me with a lot of new questions. I guess that’s the whole point of it.
One man quoted in the film said that Wall Street is a “holy place,” and implied that capitalism—each person making as much money as he can—is God-given. Other voices in the film called capitalism “evil.” Who is right?
If materialistic greed is Moore’s chief target (and it clearly is, in this film), why will so many people shy away from seeing it? What are they afraid of? Is it “socialism,” a word several people in the film seemed frightened of? Am I a socialist if I help the poor and share my plenty with the deprived?
In my opinion, every thinking American should see this movie and chew on it. Why? Very simply, because it will prick your conscience. On one level, it’s classic Moore, with tongue-in-cheek humor, irreverence (especially toward self-important people), subtle exaggeration, and the deft use of people’s own words to incriminate themselves. But in broad strokes, every point Moore makes is painfully true, and in this film more than in his previous ones, you feel the heart of a man who has compassion for the downtrodden.
Moore’s most effective challenges in this movie are directed at those of us that say we are Christians. He needles those who claim to follow Jesus and yet advocate a system that is completely contrary to His example. Moore doesn’t quote the following passage from James 5 in his film, but on leaving the theater, it came to mind:
Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.
So did this strong admonition, from the same letter (James 2):
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
Who taught us to love our neighbor as ourselves, and what does it mean? If we all truly followed this command, what system would we choose for ourselves and our children? Whether or not you like Michael Moore, you owe it to yourself to take the time to go see Capitalism: A Love Story.