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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Capitalism: A Love Story

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Michael Moore stands in front of the U.S. Capitol in a scene from the documentary "Capitalism: A Love Story."
Filmmaker Michael Moore, who first brought his idiosyncratic but effective style of cinematic advocacy to bear on economic questions in his 1989 directorial debut "Roger & Me"—focusing on the role of General Motors' management in the decline of his hometown of Flint, Mich.—takes on the American entrepreneurial system as a whole in the ironically titled "Capitalism: A Love Story" (Overture).

The result is a hard-hitting but at times overly simplistic documentary.

Moore is at his best in chronicling the effects of economic dysfunction on vulnerable individuals and families, as a large group of Chicago factory workers are summarily thrown into unemployment or a farming couple faces foreclosure. And he manages to uncover more unusual—and more outrageous—examples of corporate greed gone haywire.

It's disturbing to learn, for instance, that a number of airline pilots supplement their meager paychecks with food stamps or by selling their blood plasma, and that large corporations secretly take out life insurance policies on low-level employees, calculating that a certain percentage of them will end up as—to quote the callous and insulting phrase used in the companies' internal documents—"dead peasants."

But by far the most unsettling story Moore tells involves two corrupt Wilkes-Barre, Pa., judges who accepted bribes from a local for-profit juvenile detention facility in exchange for sentencing scores of young people to imprisonment there, often for the most trivial offenses.

Moore is on shakier ground, though, when he examines economic history. He idealizes the days when top U.S. earners paid 90 percent income tax, claiming that this made possible not only the maintenance of the national infrastructure but the generous contracts under which unionized employees enjoyed numerous benefits, including free health and dental care.

He also blames the disappearance of American heavy industry entirely on the policies of President Ronald Reagan and his first treasury secretary, Donald Regan.

Ultimately, Moore calls for an economic revolution that would uproot capitalism completely. In its stead, he seems to favor not the extreme socialism of the old Soviet system, but a cooperative model of democracy in the workplace, with each employee and manager an equal shareholder. Where the initial investment to establish new workplaces is to be found he fails to mention.

For a spiritual perspective, Moore—who speaks with great warmth of his Catholic childhood, of the kindly nuns who educated him and of his admiration for the clergy— interviews two Catholic priests who are family friends and retired Auxiliary Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton of Detroit. The three are unanimous in condemning capitalism as inherently sinful.

Yet this is not the teaching of the full magisterium, which instead takes a more moderate stance, recognizing both the efficiencies of the free market system and its need to be prudently regulated, while upholding the human dignity of workers, particularly their right to unionize.

The film contains at least three uses of the F-word and a couple of crude terms. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted; under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

***
 Mulderig is on the staff of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.


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Pedro de San José Betancur: Central America claimed its first saint with the canonization of Pedro de San José Betancur by Pope John Paul II in Guatemala City on July 30, 2002. Known as the "St. Francis of the Americas," Pedro de Betancur is the first saint to have worked and died in Guatemala. 
<p>Calling the new saint an “outstanding example” of Christian mercy, the Holy Father noted that St. Pedro practiced mercy “heroically with the lowliest and the most deprived.” Speaking to the estimated 500,000 Guatemalans in attendance, the Holy Father spoke of the social ills that plague the country today and of the need for change. </p><p>“Let us think of the children and young people who are homeless or deprived of an education; of abandoned women with their many needs; of the hordes of social outcasts who live in the cities; of the victims of organized crime, of prostitution or of drugs; of the sick who are neglected and the elderly who live in loneliness,” he said in his homily during the three-hour liturgy. </p><p>Pedro very much wanted to become a priest, but God had other plans for the young man born into a poor family on Tenerife in the Canary Islands. Pedro was a shepherd until age 24, when he began to make his way to Guatemala, hoping to connect with a relative engaged in government service there. By the time he reached Havana, he was out of money. After working there to earn more, he got to Guatemala City the following year. When he arrived he was so destitute that he joined the bread line that the Franciscans had established. </p><p>Soon, Pedro enrolled in the local Jesuit college in hopes of studying for the priesthood. No matter how hard he tried, however, he could not master the material; he withdrew from school. In 1655 he joined the Secular Franciscan Order. Three years later he opened a hospital for the convalescent poor; a shelter for the homeless and a school for the poor soon followed. Not wanting to neglect the rich of Guatemala City, Pedro began walking through their part of town ringing a bell and inviting them to repent. </p><p>Other men came to share in Pedro's work. Out of this group came the Bethlehemite Congregation, which won papal approval after Pedro's death. A Bethlehemite sisters' community, similarly founded after Pedro's death, was inspired by his life of prayer and compassion. </p><p>He is sometimes credited with originating the Christmas Eve <i>posadas</i> procession in which people representing Mary and Joseph seek a night's lodging from their neighbors. The custom soon spread to Mexico and other Central American countries. </p><p>Pedro was canonized in 2002.</p> American Catholic Blog We sometimes try to do everything on our own, forgetting that the Lord wants to help us. Let's never be afraid to admit that we are weak and can't do things on our own. St. Paul gives us a great example: "On my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses" (2 Corinthians 12:5).


 
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