Capitalism: A Love Story (2009)

Rated R. Our ratings: V- 0; L- 8; S-3/N-7 Running time: 2 hours 7 min.

Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing;
go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and
you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me. “ When
he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he
had many possessions.
Mark 10:21-22

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.
1 Timothy 6:10

Filmmaker Michael Moore indicts the NY Stock Exchange.

2009 Paramount Vantage

Many people dismiss Michael Moore as a grandstanding iconoclast, and this will certainly be true concerning his newest film, not exactly the love story of its title—he would do well to add to the subtitle “Gone Sour.” Is sued on the 20th anniversary of his first film Roger and Me, what I found noteworthy about the film is that Mr. Moore states so fully the Christian basis for his views. For example, at one point the filmmaker reveals that there was a time when he had wanted to become a priest because he was inspired by priests like Daniel Berigan who demonstrated against the Vietnam War.

After a funny introduction in which he uses clips from old movies about ancient Rome to compare its decline and fall with our nation’s recent history, he explores the situations of people who have fallen prey to economic predators. Somehow he found a character who heads up a company with a very appropriate name: this man keeps close watch on condo foreclosures and buys them up at very low prices. The name of his company? Condo Vulture! Wow!

Much later in the film Moore interviews two Michigan Catholic priests, one of whom declares that capitalism is evil and “contrary to the holy books.” The Archbishop of Detroit also bolsters the filmmaker’s argument that capitalism as it has been practiced in the US for the past 40 years is built on unrestrained greed. He then invokes the gospel story of Jesus and the rich young man, pointing out how anti-capitalist is Jesus‘ treatment of the wealthy man. Then come several scenes from Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth in which Moore literally puts words affirming the values of modern capitalism into the mouth of Jesus, creating an amusing mini-satire, one that will be appreciated by Christians who know that their Master affirmed the opposite of which the doctored image is saying. (I wonder if those ignorant of the New Testament will come away actually believing that the man who asserted “Blessed are the poor” is a mainstay of capitalist teachings!) One can argue with some of his assertions and extreme arguments perhaps, but that the New Testament gospels appear to be the source of his passionate views is unimpeachable. As final proof of the basis of the filmmaker’s beliefs, be sure to stay for the end credits: as they roll up the screen we hear Woody Guthrie’s song “Jesus Christ.” That the filmmaker, like Jesus,” sides with society’s “left outs” is readily demonstrated by the interviews that Moore conducts with victims of the system: a Florida family who videotaped the sheriff’s breaking into his locked home to serve a warrant on behalf of the bank foreclosing on their house; and of the widower of a dead woman who discovers that her employer (Wal-Mart) had taken out upon her life what is actually labeled “dead peasant insurance.” This is the practice in which a company prospers upon the death of an employee but neither tells the family nor shares the death benefit with them. Also well told is the inspiring case of the employees of the Chicago window factory who stage a sit-in after the factory is shut down because a bank would not support the owners seeking financial help to meet the payroll.

Especially impressive is the use of an almost forgotten news clip of Franklin Delano Roosevelt calling for a Second Bill of Rights for Americans. Less than a year before his death, the President stated that citizens have a right to homes, jobs, education and health care. Forgotten in the midst of the nation’s finishing World War 2, this is a sobering reminder of how far short we have fallen in living up to the ideals of the great leader.

There is much more in the film, such as an attempt to explain what derivatives are, which greatly contributed to our financial woes of today. The director does indeed grandstand, using the tactic of his first film, one that involves his attempting unsuccessfully to get past the security guards of banks or corporate headquarters so that he can talk with a CEO or make a citizen’s arrest. But his passionate argument that we take a new look at capitalism and its effects should be taken seriously. He is short on solutions, other than voting or contacting our representatives, but maybe this is for the best, leaving it up to viewers to decide for themselves what course to take. Whatever one thinks about the filmmaker and some of his tactics and claims, the fact that he sides with the One who came to bring “good news to the poor” and “release to the captives” seems beyond dispute. And don’t forget to stay and listen to the song playing under the end credits, Woody Guthrie’s “Jesus Christ.”

For Reflection/Discussion

1. What is your view of Michael Moore as a filmmaker? Positive or negative? For a group discussion: Make two lists under the headings “Agree” and “Disagree.” Write in each column the claims/arguments made in the film.

2. What other works have you seen or read that makes the argument that our nation has entered the same path that led to the decline and fall of the Roman Empire? What are the similarities? But also, what are the differences between the two societies?

3. What do you think of his invoking Jesus and his teachings? Were the historical Jesus to visit our nation, how do you think he might regard our system? (Check out the lyrics of “Jesus Christ” to see one answer.) Read again the account of Jesus and the rich man, and his follow-up comment to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 4. The filmmaker, juxtaposing a quotation by Senator Graham that the Stock Market is a holy place, says, “Jesus would refuse to be a part of it.” What do you think? Is this a fair extrapolation of the incident in which Jesus cleansed the temple of the money changers and merchants?

5. How do you see the church involved with the workers’ sit-in at Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago? Do you think it appropriate that the Bishop of Chicago became involved? How did many others help support the workers?

6. What do you think of the Congresswoman’s suggestion that people whose homes are being foreclosed should refuse to move out? What might happen if the rebellion of the Chicago factory workers and such people as the Florida family, fostered by the Congresswoman, should spread?

7. Name some examples from history that illustrate President Roosevelt’s statement: “People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.” What do you think of his “Second Bill of Rights” ?

8. How do you see the insights of 1 Timothy 6:10 unfolding in the film, especially the last half, “…and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains” ?

9. Check out the words of Woody Guthrie’s song that accompanies the end credits. How does the songwriter portray Jesus? Do you think this is why Mr. Moore chose the song for his film? What effect does the repetition of “and they laid Jesus Christ in his grave” have on the
listener? Do you agree with the song’s last two lines? “If Jesus was to preach what He preached in Galilee, They would lay poor Jesus in His grave. ‘ Woody Guthrie “Jesus Christ” Entire song available at: http://www.woodyguthrie.org/Lyrics/Jesus_Christ.htm