Bowling for Columbine  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Bowling for Columbine is a 2002 American documentary film written, directed, produced by, and starring Michael Moore. It brought Moore international attention as a rising film director and won numerous awards.


Film content

The film explores what Moore suggests are the causes for the Columbine High School massacre and other acts of violence with guns. Moore focuses on the background and environment in which the massacre took place and some common public opinions and assumptions about related issues. The film looks into the nature of violence in the United States.

In Moore's discussions with various people – including South Park co-creator Matt Stone, the National Rifle Association's then-president Charlton Heston, and musician Marilyn Manson – he seeks to explain why the Columbine massacre occurred and why the United States has a high violent crime rate (especially crimes involving guns).


The film title originates from the story that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold – the two students responsible for the Columbine High School massacre – attended a school bowling class early that morning, at 6:00 a.m., before they committed the attacks at school starting at 11:19 a.m. Later investigation showed that this was based on mistaken recollections, and Glenn Moore of the Golden Police Department concluded that they were absent from school on the day of the attack.

Moore incorporates the concept of bowling in other ways as well. For example, a Michigan militia uses bowling pins for their target practice. When interviewing former classmates of the two boys, Moore notes that the students took a bowling class in place of physical education. Moore notes this might have very little educational value; the girls he interviews generally agree. They note how Harris and Klebold had a very introverted lifestyle and a very careless attitude towards the game, and that nobody thought twice about it. Moore asks if the school system is responding to the real needs of their students or if they are reinforcing fear. Moore also interviews two young residents of Oscoda, Michigan, in a local bowling alley, and learns that guns are relatively easy to come by in the small town. Eric Harris spent some of his early years in Oscoda while his father was serving in the U.S. Air Force.

Moore suggests sarcastically that bowling could have been just as responsible for the attacks on the school as Marilyn Manson or even Bill Clinton, who launched bombing attacks on several countries around that time.

Free gun for opening a bank account

An early scene narrates how Moore discovered a bank in Michigan that would give customers a free hunting rifle when they made a deposit of a certain size into a time deposit account. The film follows Moore as he goes to the bank, makes his deposit, fills out the forms, and awaits the result of a background check before walking out of the bank carrying a brand new Weatherby hunting rifle.

Just before leaving the bank, Moore asks if it is not dangerous to hand out guns in a bank.

"Happiness Is a Warm Gun" montage

About 20 minutes into the film, the song Happiness Is a Warm Gun plays during a violent montage in which the following footage is shown:

  • People buying guns
  • Residents of Virgin, Utah, a town that passed a law requiring all residents to own guns
  • People firing rifles at carnivals and shooting ranges
  • Footage of Denise Ames firing an assault rifle while wearing a bikini bottom
  • Footage of Carey McWilliams, a blind man who is a gun enthusiast
  • Footage of Gary Plauche shooting Jeff Doucett, a man who had kidnapped his son and molested him.
  • The suicide of Budd Dwyer
  • A 1993 murder where Emilio Nuñez shot his ex-wife Maritza Martin to death during an interview on the Telemundo program Ocurrio Asi
  • The suicide of Daniel V. Jones
  • A man who takes his shirt off and is shot during a riot

Weapons of mass destruction

Early in the film, Moore links the violent behavior of the Columbine shooters to the presence in Littleton of a large defense establishment, manufacturing rocket technology. It is implied that the presence of this facility within the community, and the acceptance of institutionalized violence as a solution to conflict, contributed to the mindset that led to the massacre.

Moore conducts an interview with Evan McCollum, Director of Communications at a Lockheed Martin plant near Columbine, and asks him:

"So you don't think our kids say to themselves, 'Dad goes off to the factory every day, he builds missiles of mass destruction. What's the difference between that mass destruction and the mass destruction over at Columbine High School?'"

McCollum responded:

"I guess I don't see that specific connection because the missiles that you're talking about were built and designed to defend us from somebody else who would be aggressors against us."

"What a Wonderful World" montage

The film then cuts to a montage of American foreign policy decisions, with the intent to contradict McCollum's statement by citing examples of how the United States have frequently been the aggressor nation. This montage is set to the song "What a Wonderful World" performed by Louis Armstrong.

The following is an exact transcript of the onscreen text in the Wonderful World segment:

  1. 1953: U.S. overthrows Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq of Iran. U.S. installs Shah as dictator.
  2. 1954: U.S. overthrows democratically-elected President Arbenz of Guatemala. 200,000 civilians killed.
  3. 1963: U.S. backs assassination of South Vietnamese President Diem.
  4. 1963-1975: American military kills 4 million people in Southeast Asia.
  5. September 11 1973: U.S. stages coup in Chile. Democratically-elected President Salvador Allende assassinated. Dictator Augusto Pinochet installed. 5,000 Chileans murdered.
  6. 1977: U.S. backs military rulers of El Salvador. 70,000 Salvadorans and four American nuns killed.
  7. 1980s: U.S. trains Osama bin Laden and fellow terrorists to kill Soviets. CIA gives them $3 billion.
  8. 1981: Reagan administration trains and funds the Contras. 30,000 Nicaraguans die.
  9. 1982: U.S. provides billions of dollars in aid to Saddam Hussein for weapons to kill Iranians.
  10. 1983: The White House secretly gives Iran weapons to kill Iraqis.
  11. 1989: CIA agent Manuel Noriega (also serving as President of Panama) disobeys orders from Washington. U.S. invades Panama and removes Noriega. 3,000 Panamanian civilian casualties.
  12. 1990: Iraq invades Kuwait with weapons from U.S.
  13. 1991: U.S. enters Iraq. Bush reinstates dictator of Kuwait.
  14. 1998: Clinton bombs possible weapons factory in Sudan. Factory turns out to be making aspirin.
  15. 1991 to present: American planes bomb Iraq on a weekly basis. U.N. estimates 500,000 Iraqi children die from bombing and sanctions.
  16. 2000-2001: U.S. gives Taliban-ruled Afghanistan $245 million in aid.
  17. Sept. 11, 2001: Osama bin Laden uses his expert CIA training to murder 3,000 people.

On the website accompanying the film, Moore provides additional background information.

Climate of fear

Moore attempts to contrast this with the attitude prevailing in Canada, where (he states) gun ownership is at similar levels to the U.S. He illustrates his thesis by visiting neighborhoods in Canada near the Canada-U.S. border, where he finds front doors unlocked and much less concern over crime and security.

In this section, a montage of possible causes for gun violence are stated by television persona. Many claim links with violence in television, cinema, and computer games; towards the end of the montage, however, a series of statements all claim Marilyn Manson's responsibility. Following this is an interview between Moore and Marilyn Manson. Manson shares his ideas about America's climate with Moore, stating that he believes U.S. society is based on "fear and consumption", citing Colgate commercials that promise "if you have bad breath, [people] are not going to talk to you" and other commercials containing fear-based messages. When Moore asks Manson what he would say to the kids at Columbine and the community, Manson replies, "I wouldn't say a single word to them; I would listen to what they have to say, and that's what no one did."

K-Mart refund

Moore takes two Columbine victims (Mark Taylor and Richard Castaldo) to the American superstore K-Mart headquarters in Troy, Michigan, ostensibly to claim a refund on the bullets still lodged in their bodies. After a number of attempts to evade the issue, a K-Mart spokesperson says that the firm will change its policy and phase out the sale of handgun ammunition; this comes after Moore and the victims go to the nearest K-Mart store, purchase all of their ammunition, and return the next day with several members of the media. "We've won," says Moore, in disbelief. "That was more than we asked for."


Reviews for the film were overwhelmingly positive, with a 96% rating on, thus earning a "certified fresh" award. Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune wrote, "It's unnerving, stimulating, likely to provoke anger and sorrow on both political sides—and, above all, it's extremely funny."

Some reviews were not as unequivocally glowing. A.O. Scott of the New York Times warned, "The slippery logic, tendentious grandstanding, and outright demagoguery on display in Bowling for Columbine should be enough to give pause to its most ardent partisans, while its disquieting insights into the culture of violence in America should occasion sober reflection from those who would prefer to stop their ears." Desson Thomson of the Washington Post thought that the film lacked a coherent message, asking "A lot of this is amusing and somehow telling. But what does it all add up to?"


Free gun for opening a bank account

In Michael Wilson's refutative documentary Michael Moore Hates America, bank employees from the branch at which Moore is given a free hunting rifle assert that they were misled during the filming of this segment. They say that the bank's policy was to conduct background checks on rifle recipients and mail the rifles to a licensed gun dealer, but Moore's agents, under the pretext of "doing a story on unique businesses across America," are accused of convincing bank employees to have his rifle presented to him on camera the morning after filming his account opening. Further, they counter that contrary to the film's supposition that the bank kept hundreds of guns on their premises, the gun which was handed to Michael in the film was shipped overnight from a vault in their Upper Peninsula branch "300 miles away." Moore emphatically denies that this sequence was staged but admits the timing was compressed for production reasons. He reminds his readers that North Country Bank is a licensed firearms dealer, and in addition to its ATF license number, he produces out-takes where bank employee Jan Jacobson appears to confirm on camera that rifles are secured locally on bank premises.

Ignoring the role of municipal governance

The American Prospect published a piece by Garance Franke-Ruta criticizing the film for ignoring the role that municipal governance plays in crime in the United States, and ignoring African American urban victims of violence while focusing on the unusual events of Columbine. "A decline in murders in New York City alone—from 1,927 in 1993 to 643 in 2001—had, for example, a considerable impact on the declining national rate. Not a lot of those killers or victims were the sort of sports-hunters or militiamen Moore goes out of his way to interview and make fun of."

Weapons of mass destruction

After the release of the film, Lockheed Martin spokesperson Evan McCollum clarified that the plant no longer produces missiles (the plant manufactured parts for intercontinental ballistic missiles with a nuclear warhead in the mid-1980s), but rockets used for launching satellites:

I provided specific information to Moore about the space launch vehicles we build to launch spacecraft for NASA, NOAA, the Dept. of Defense and commercial customers, including DirecTV and EchoStar.

Erik Möller argues that Moore's question was not limited to the Littleton-area Lockheed Martin facility:

First, note the word "our" in Moore's question. Moore is not from Colorado -- his question is generic, not meant to refer specifically to the Lockheed Martin plant in question. ... Of course, critics [David Hardy, et al.] have conveniently ignored the fact that Lockheed Martin does supply weapons of mass destruction to the US military, and that the company is the nation's largest military contractor.

As of 2008, Lockheed Martin is the world's largest defense contractor by revenue, which Moore states in the film.

Matt Stone

Being from Littleton, Matt Stone agreed to talk with Moore about his hometown and the shooting. While he did not feel that Moore mischaracterized him or his statements in the film, he harbors ill feelings about the cartoon "A Brief History of the United States of America". Both Stone and his fellow South Park producer Trey Parker feel that the cartoon was done in a style very similar to theirs. Also, its proximity to Stone's interview may have led some viewers to believe, incorrectly, that they created the cartoon. As a result, Michael Moore was depicted as a gibbering, overweight, hot-dog eating buffoon who ultimately commits a suicide bombing against the protagonists in their 2004 film Team America: World Police.

Charlton Heston interview

Moore was criticized for his perceived ambush of the actor at his home, who at the time of the interview, unknown to the public, was in the early stages of prostate cancer and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Bowling for Columbine" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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