Your new movie, Where to Invade Next, is very powerful, your best so far for certain.
We need you.
You’ve packed a great many issues into this film, with visuals, with personalities, with entertainment. If people will watch this, they’ll learn what many of us have struggled to tell them and more, as there was plenty that I learned as well.
I must assume that when U.S. audiences watch scenes that dramatically clash with their world yet seem humane and reasonable they’ll be brought to the point of thinking.
You show us political candidates, not screeching for more prisons, but holding a televised election debate in a prison in an effort to win the votes of the prisoners, who are permitted to vote. What are we to make of that? You also show us scenes from U.S. prisons of grotesque brutality. Then you show us the effective rehabilitation achieved by Norwegian prisons (25% of U.S. recidivism rate). That doesn’t just clash with what’s familiar in the United States, but it also clashes with what the United States teaches about “human nature,” namely that criminals cannot be rehabilitated. And you expose the driving force of vengeance that lies behind that pseudo-belief by showing the collective response of forgiveness and sanity with which Norway responded to a major terrorist incident. We all know how the U.S. has responded to those.
If we’ve read Steven Hills’ book Europe’s Promise or others like it, or lived in Europe and visited Europe or other parts of the world, we have some notion of much of what you show us: Italians and others with many weeks of paid vacation and parental leave plus 2-hour lunch breaks, Germans with paid weeks at a spa if they feel stress, Finland with soaring educational achievement reached by shunning standardized tests and homework while shrinking the school day, France with nutritious gourmet school lunches, Slovenia and dozens of other countries with free college, workers making up 50% of corporate boards in Germany, Portugal legalizing drugs (best line of the movie: “So does Facebook.”). By bringing all of this together in a concise and intelligent and entertaining way, you’ve done us all a favor.
I was worried, I will confess. I apologize. I’ve been watching Bernie Sanders propose these sorts of changes without a real vision behind them and without daring to mention that the money is all being dumped into the U.S. military. And I’ve watched you, Michael, make some oddly supportive comments about Hillary Clinton who has spent decades working against everything this movie is about. So, I was worried, but I was wrong. Not only were you willing to point out that the United States pays nearly as much as these other countries in taxes, and much more when adding in the additional things paid for outside of taxes (college, healthcare, etc.), but you also included the elephant in the room, the 59% (in the figure you used) of U.S. income tax that goes to militarism. This movie, because you included that fundamental difference between the United States and other nations, is a terrific boost for the cause of ending war. That you point out the contrast between what Germans know and feel about the holocaust and what U.S. Americans know and feel about past U.S. wars, genocides, and slavery only adds to the value.
You included in a single 2-hour movie, in a clear and unrushed manner, not only all of the above, but also explanation of the popular resistance needed to create it, plus a critique of the racist U.S. drug war, mass incarceration, prison labor, and the death penalty. You showed us Muslim leaders in a largely Muslim nation more advanced on women’s rights than is the United States. You showed us the openness of numerous nations to women sharing in power. I do, by the way, recognize the good intentions that may lie behind your interest in electing a female president, but I ask you if Margaret Thatcher advanced or impeded the cause. Does electing women create humane societies, or is it at least as much the case that humane societies elect women?
The other story you bring us from Iceland, in addition to women in power, is bankers prosecuted for their crimes. Odd, isn’t it? Americans thirst for such revenge that they imprison small-time criminals for decades and brutalize them, but big-time criminals are rewarded. A shift to a more civilized system of justice would reduce the nastiness in one case but impose penalties that have been lacking in the other.
You allowed some powerful voices to speak in this movie. One of them suggested that Americans try taking an interest in the rest of the world. I’ve noticed, living abroad, that not only do other people want to know about the United States (and everywhere else), but they also want to know what Americans think of them. And I always have to reply with shame that Americans don’t, in fact, think anything of them at all. Not only should we start to be curious about others, but we should start to be curious about what others think of us.
P.S. — I’m old enough to remember your film about Bush’s Iraq lies, Michael. The leading Republican presidential candidate now says Bush lied. The trailing Democratic candidate doesn’t, and told the same lies at the time herself. You helped make U.S. culture, not yet good enough to end homelessness, but good enough to get that question right. Thank you.