An Italian couple, who Michael Moore interviews in his new film, share their desire to possibly live in the United States one day. Moore informs the Italian couple they would be giving up paid vacation time they have in Italy. Americans are rather fortunate if they have two weeks of paid vacation in a year. They are extremely fortunate if they have three weeks of paid vacation.
Italians have around eight weeks of paid vacation every year. After Italians marry, they receive 15 more paid vacation days to go on their honeymoon. Italians can bank their paid vacation days and save them for when they want to travel or take a break from work. Italians also have this strange idea that vacation is no good if they do not have money to go out and enjoy themselves.
Oh, and Italians, who work in factories and at businesses, receive a two-hour lunch break each day, where they are permitted to go home and make lunch without having to eat snacks from a vending machine or rush to a drive-thru at a fast food joint.
If any of this seems both astonishing and bewildering, that is because it is astonishing and confounding. While Italians take care of their citizens, Americans have failed to setup society so citizens are treated decently. The other countries featured in the film evoke the same response in viewers. But this feeling of astonishment and bewilderment is needed to shake citizens into rebelling against the status quo in the U.S.
Remarkably, the film fits into a zeitgeist in the U.S, which has catapulted Senator Bernie Sanders into the position of being a contender for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Many of the policies from European countries championed in the film are policies Sanders supports.
It is not a sequel to “Sicko,” which investigated for-profit healthcare in the U.S. and showed Americans how other countries provide real health care through single-payer healthcare systems. Yet, the film definitely feels like it builds on what made “Sicko” so compelling. And it resumes a critique of the United States, which was amplified in “Capitalism: A Love Story.”
Moore opens “Where to Invade Next” with the satirical premise of advising military generals at the Pentagon on which countries have ideas America should steal next. Just as the U.S. tried to steal Iraq’s oil after the 2003 invasion, Moore has a list of countries with policies the U.S. should take. If the military seizes control of these policies and informs the American people these are American ideas, the policies are likely to be supported and adopted by Americans.
This element of satire runs throughout the film, as Moore plants the American flag in homes, factories, or offices after interviewing people about how policies such as paid vacation or free college education work. But the film is also exceptionally poignant at times, forcing viewers—particularly U.S. citizens—to reflect on why the U.S. does not take care of its own population like the countries “invaded” by Moore.
The response of Italians, French, Slovenians, and others, who cannot comprehend the atrociousness tolerated by Americans, is even more wrenching than seeing the plethora of humane policies which this country has thus far rejected. To paraphrase one businesswoman in Iceland, she says she would never want to be any American’s neighbor because so many citizens allow so much social injustice to persist. U.S. citizens come home each day and many act as if what is happening to their fellow citizens is okay or not their problem at all.
Before Moore goes on the war path through countries to snatch up ideas, the audience is shown a montage reflecting all the worst aspects of the United States: a Vietnam veteran freezes in his home, voter suppression, police beat up black children at a pool party, Eric Garner is put in a chokehold and killed by New York police, school districts ask parents to buy toilet paper for students, banks foreclose on soldiers’ homes while they’re deployed in Iraq, Dr. George Tiller, an abortion doctor, is assassinated, Ferguson, Missouri, is under police siege as they protest the fact that Michael Brown was killed by Officer Darren Wilson.
As Moore has done to great effect in previous movies like “Fahrenheit 9/11,” quotes from U.S. presidents are played to show the platitudes uttered by leaders, which all too often do not match the reality of life for poor and working class Americans.
Although Moore demonstrates through his tour of countries that America is not so exceptional, his film is not intended to leave audiences feeling dejected and cynical. The film is about solutions, and he infuses the film with vigorous optimism. There is absolutely no reason why U.S. citizens cannot have the same level of social welfare these countries provide to their citizens. But, in order to achieve such gains, a struggle must be waged.
A number of the policies highlighted in the film were the result of workers fighting for dignity in the workplace. Citizens demanded more from government and did not stop struggling until they were won. Today, when governments threaten to dismantle social welfare—by, for example, privatizing education, these same citizens protest in massive numbers and make it impossible for the government to go through with unraveling their social safety net.
For those who wish to see an end to the War on Drugs and an end to mass incarceration in the U.S., the film makes it clear that social welfare programs made it possible for countries to abandon unjust and destructive policies. It will be exceptionally difficult to end mass incarceration and maintain gains if people released back into communities do not have the social welfare they need.