Bowling for Columbine
(Documentary) ( 2002)
© 2003 by Raymond Weschler
Since this is a documentary, there are no “major characters,” the way other films have. However, there are real people who are seen throughout the movie, including the following:
Michael Moore……The movie’s writer, director and narrator! He is a liberal political humorist, film maker and writer of many well-known books, including Stupid White Men. He has become famous for creating works that criticize American society in general, and powerful people in particular.
John Nichols……….The brother of Terry Nichols, who was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for helping Timothy McVeigh blow up the Oklahoma City Federal Building in April, 1995 (168 people were killed). Randy is a Michigan farmer who, like his brother, is completely obsessed with guns and other weapons, and is convinced that the federal government is going to take away all his rights.
Marilyn Manson………The “Goth rock” musician whose anti-religious lyrics and songs about evil were seen by many as the reason two teenage boys decided to kill as many students as they could, at Columbine High School, in June 1999. Manson, who named himself after Marilyn Monroe and the mass murderer Charles Manson, was one of the most popular Goth singers of the late 1990s. Goth music is known for its loud and theatrical style, and its song lyrics that deal with death, destruction and the devil.
Charleston Heston…..The world-famous actor who played, among other roles, Moses, in the film The Ten Commandments. In the 1990s, Heston became the President of the National Rifle Association, the powerful lobbying group that tries to stop almost all gun control laws. Heston often appeared in pro-gun rallies in cities that had just suffered from terrible gun violence.
While these were the most prominent people featured in the movie, there are also various others, from students who knew Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (the boys who committed the massacre at Columbine) to members of the Michigan Militia (a group of gun owners who practice shooting in the country), to the spokeswoman for Kmart Stores, where the bullets used at Columbine were sold.
Since this film is a documentary, there is no real plot the way there are in most movies. Instead, it simply follows the liberal political humorist Michael Moore as he tries to understand why Americans are so obsessed with guns, and why there is so much murder and gun violence in the United States. Moore began to ask himself this question after the horrible mass murder at Columbine High School, in Littleton, Colorado (just outside of Denver), on April 20, 1999. On that day, two emotionally disturbed students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, shot and killed 12 students, one teacher and finally themselves. It was the worst high school shooting in US history, but in fact, it was just one of many that happened in the US throughout the 1990s.
In doing his research, Moore interviews members of the Michigan Militia, which is a group of people who spend a lot of time shooting guns in the countryside. From there, he moves on to teenagers who live in the towns of Michigan where he grew up, to survivors of the Columbine Massacre, to various people in Canada, who seem to like guns as much as Americans do, but who still don’t murder each other nearly as frequently. In the end, Moore asks a lot of questions about the nature of American society, and while he doesn’t always give us answers, he does conclude that the United States is a nation that is filled with both too many guns and way too much fear.
Some Words and Expressions that You May not Know
The People of Michigan and the Guns They Love.
Are we a country of gun nuts or just nuts?
A “gun nut” is crazy about or obsessed with guns, and if a person
is “nuts” in general, they’re just crazy. A fun slang word.
The National Rifle Association has produced a film of great interest.
This is a well known and powerful lobbying group that tries to prevent
gun control laws (Groups that lobby politicians try to influence them,
and gun control refers to any law that tries to limit the sale of guns).
The farmer did his chores.
A “chore” is a routine job or task, such as cutting the grass.
I’d spotted an ad in the local Michigan paper that said if you open
an account at North County Bank, the bank would give you a gun.
“To spot” something is to see or notice it.
You do a CD and we’ll hand you a gun.
A “CD” is short for a “certificate of deposit,” which is a type of bank account in which you agree to keep your money in the bank for a certain period of time.
We have a whole brochure.
A little booklet with lots of information.
Once we do the background check and everything, it’s yours to go.
In this context, a “background check” refers to a quick check on a person’s past to make sure they don’t have a criminal record, in which case they are allowed to buy a gun.
We have a vault…in which we keep at least 500 firearms. :: Wow!
A “vault” is a well secured and safe room, often found in a bank, for storing valuable things such as jewelry. A “firearm” is any type of gun
or weapon. “Wow” is a common way of expressing surprise.
You’re a bank, and a licensed firearms dealer?
Any business that’s been given official permission by the state to sell guns.
What do you put for “race,” white or Caucasian?
The official term for a white person (as opposed to black or Asian).
“Have you ever been adjudicated mentally defective,
or been committed to a mental institution?”
In this case, “adjudicated” means legally declared. “Mentally defective”
is a cruel way of saying psychologically disturbed or crazy. “To commit” a person to a home is to legally force them to live there, and a “mental institution” is a home for emotionally or psychologically troubled people.
It’s a straight shooter, let me tell ya.
A “straight shooter” is a gun that shoots accurately.
Note that “you” ---> “ya” in rapid speech.
Each gun makes lots of battle sounds! Just press the trigger and listen.
A “battle” is an armed encounter or fight, often during a war. The
“trigger” of a gun is the metal part that is pressed in order to fire it.
Those were the days.
A common way of suggesting that life was
easier, more fun or just better in the past.
I was such a good shot, I won the National Rifle Association’s marksman award.
If a person is “a good shot,” they know how to fire guns well, with
great accuracy. A “marksman” is a person skilled at shooting guns.
One guy had the idea, why don’t we sling a rifle on
the guy’s back to make him a little more interesting?
“To sling” something is to throw it with a forceful circular motion.
A “rifle” is a type of long gun that is worn over the shoulders.
The one round went through the right part of the
victim’s shin…and came through the back of his calf.
In this context, a “round” is a shot fired from a gun. A person’s
shin is the front part of their lower leg, and their “calf” is the back part.
Animals aren’t some sort of whatever that could commit a crime.
Note that “whatever” can function as a general filler word, like “thing,” when the speaker can’t find the more precise word they’re looking for.
“To commit” a crime is to do it.
It was a funny picture to look at…it was kind of neat.
A common way to say good, excellent, or more colloquially, cool.
If a bullet cost $5,000 dollars, there’d be no more innocent bystanders.
A “bullet” is the tiny metal missiles or projectiles fired from guns. An “innocent bystander” is a person who is injured or killed by a gun or other weapon that was actually fired at, or intended for, somebody else
Man, I would blow your fucking head off, if I could afford it.
“To blow a person’s head off” is a colloquial way of saying to kill them, often with a gunshot to their head. Here, “fucking” is a vulgar adverb that shows anger or other emotion. To be able to “afford” something is
to have enough money to comfortably pay for it.
You better hope I can‘t get no bullets on layaway.
A way of buying something by making monthly payments for it.
Not far from where Charleston Heston and I grew
up is a training ground for the Michigan militia.
A “training ground” is an open space for practicing, in this case
to practice shooting guns. A “militia” is an armed group of private
citizens (not in the military), who often practice in the use of weapons.
Why do you use the bowling pins? :: From a self-
defense or technical standpoint, it’s a small target.
A “bowling pin” is the small object that stands at the end of a
bowling lane which bowlers try to knock down with a ball. In this case,
a “technical standpoint” is a way of saying from a practical point of view. A “target” is an object that a person with a gun tries to shoot.
It represents the vitals on a human being, should you ever have to shoot at one.
A person’s vitals are their important organs, such as their heart and brain.
It’s an American responsibility to be armed.
If a person is “armed,” they are carrying a gun or other weapon.
Who’s going to defend your kids? The cops? The federal government?
A “cop” is a common slang word for a policeman. The “federal government” refers to the national government, as opposed to
the 50 individual state governments.
It’s your job to defend you and yours.
A poetic way of referring to your family and loved ones.
If you don’t do it, you’re in dereliction of duty as an American. Period.
“Dereliction of duty” is an official legal way of saying failure to do what you’re legally or morally supposed to do. “Period” is a way of stressing
or emphasizing what was just said.
We’re not the bogeyman we’re made out to be.
A “bogeyman” is an evil or bad person, and if a person is “made out
to be” a certain way, they’re portrayed or described that way by others.
If somebody’s in need, you’re there to help them.
If a person is “in need,” they need financial or other types of help.
I’m a draftsman…:: I’m a real estate negotiator.
A “draftsman” makes drawing of machines and buildings, and a “real estate negotiator” tries to get the best price for houses or other property
(To negotiate is to bargain or arrive at a deal through compromise).
White collar, all the way.
If a person is “white collar,” they work in an office (if you’re “blue collar,” you work doing physical labor). In this case, “all the way” is a slangy way of saying totally or completely.
Smith and Wesson, 9 millimeter, with hollow parts.
“Smith and Wesson” is a famous gun maker, and a “9 millimeter” refers to the type or power of a gun. If the parts of a machine are hallow, they’re empty or having nothing but air in them. Other types of well known guns referred to in the film are M16s, 44 Magnums, Tec 9s, 32 Caliber, etc.
A picture is worth 1,000 words.
A well known expression which shows how expressive a picture can be.
A, it demonstrates a level of sophistication you
wouldn’t expect of the militia. B, we’re people, too.
Note that when beginning a list, one can refer to the individual points with numbers (1,2,3…) or with letters (A, B, C…). “Sophistication” is another word for complexity or the act of showing education or culture.
It was a fundraiser and it showed we’re not so serious.
A “fundraiser” is an event, such as a party, that is held in
order to raise money for a particular cause or project.
We’re not those conspiracy nuts who wouldn’t want our pictures to get out.
A “conspiracy” is a plot or secret plan to commit a crime between two or more people, and thus a “conspiracy nut” is a person who believes the world is filled with conspiracies, such as a belief that Jewish people control the world. Here, if a picture “gets out,” it is seen by lots of other people.
Cut out the middle man! Take care of your own family yourself.
A “middle man” is usually a business person who buys something,
and then sells it later for a higher price (but here it refers to the police!).
We’re not racist, we’re not extremist, we’re not fundamentalist, we’re not terrorists or militants or other such nonsense…we’re just concerned citizens.
An “extremist” is a person who believes something very extreme or radical that most people would think is crazy. A “fundamentalist” is usually a person who is extremely religious, who believes their own religious beliefs are the absolute truth.
Right now there’s tofu beans, soybeans. No herbicides, pesticides or that stuff.
“Tofu beans” and “soybeans” are increasingly popular crops that are originally from East Asia. “Herbicides” and “pesticides” are chemicals that are used to kill harmful plants and insects.
Certified organic, healthier.
If a food is “certified organic,” it is officially declared to
have been grown without insecticides or other chemicals.
US attorneys formally linked the Nichols brothers of
Michigan with Oklahoma bomb suspect Timothy McVeigh.
An “attorney” is another word for a lawyer, or in this case, a prosecutor for the federal government. “To link” two people is to show how they are connected to each other. A “suspect” is an important word for a person who the police think committed a crime.
The officers charged James, who was at the hearing,
with conspiring to make and possess small bombs.
“To charge “ a person with a crime is to officially accuse them of having done it. A “hearing” is a meeting, often before a trial, to discuss the evidence and other legal issues.
Terry Nichols was convicted and received
a life sentence. Timothy McVeigh was executed.
If you are “convicted” of a crime, you are found guilty of having done it, in a court of law. A “life sentence” is a punishment in which a judge says the convicted person must spend the rest of their life in prison, and if a person is “executed,” they are put to death, often by being shot or hung.
The feds didn’t have the goods on James, so the charges were dropped.
“The feds” is a slangy way of referring to the FBI or other law enforcement agencies in the federal (national) government. If the police “have the goods” on a person, they have the evidence necessary to convict them of a crime in court. If “charges are dropped” against a person, the official charge of having committed a crime is cancelled.
He was a nice guy. :: Decent guy.
If a person is “decent,” they are nice or kind and treat others with respect.
As to what, bomb-making material? :: Any kind of explosives.
An “explosive” is any type of material or bomb that is designed
to explode or blow up in order to cause great damage.
Yeah, I had dynamite blasting caps, dynamite
fuse, black powder for muzzle leaders.
“Dynamite” is a well known and powerful chemical explosive
(The rest of the sentence refers to different types of explosives).
Sure, diesel fuel, fertilizer, but that is normal farm stuff.
“Diesel fuel” is a special type of gas for certain big trucks. “Fertilizer”
is a substance that is used to make the soil more fertile or productive. “Stuff” is a very common way of saying things or materials in general.
Law enforcement, if you want to call them that,
were here, and they were shaking in their shoes.
A way of referring to the police, FBI or other organizations
that enforce the law by arresting people who break it.
They were scared to death…they thought this was going to be another Waco.
A reference to a well-known gun battle between the federal government and a religious cult in Waco, Texas, in 1993, in which close to 100 people
in the cult died.
Certain people, namely my ex-wife, …said I’m a radical. I’m a wild man.
In this context, “namely” means especially. A “radical” is a person
who has political or religious beliefs most people think are extreme.
If the people find out how they’ve been ripped off, and enslaved in this country by the government, by the powers to be, they will revolt…with merciless anger.
If a person has been “ripped off,” they have been stolen from in such a way that they have lost a lot of money, often by being lied to. If a person is “enslaved,” they are oppressed or perhaps even forced to work for free as a slave. The “powers that be” refers to powerful people who control the country and its economy. “To revolt” is to fight back against the state, and “merciless” means without mercy or restraint, or with great cruelty.
When a government turns tyrannical, it is your
duty to overthrow it. :: Why not use Gandhi’s way?
If a government is “tyrannical,” it brutally and violently represses its citizens. “To overthrow” the government is to violently eliminate or get rid of it. The reference to Gandhi is to Mahatma Gandhi, the non-violent Indian leader who led India to freedom from the British in 1948.
The Gun-Loving Teens of Oscoda.
Oscoda has a bad habit of raising psychos.
A “psycho” is a fun slang word for a totally crazy person.
This is Brent, and this is his buddy, DJ
“Buddy” is a colloquial word for friend.
Eric Harris, who would later go on to commit the
massacre in Columbine, spent part of his childhood here.
A “massacre” is a violent attack in which many people die.
I never knew him, but I knew of him.
Note that to “know of” a person is to have heard of
them, but not to have known them directly or personally.
I got kicked out, expelled.
To get “kicked out” or “expelled” from school is to be forced to leave, usually for having done something that’s considered illegal or immoral.
I had a run in with a kid one time and I pulled a weapon on him, a gun.
To have a “run in” with a person is to have a tense or violent encounter or meeting with them. “To pull a gun” on a person is to point the gun at them, without actually firing it.
I could’ve made a mess out of that situation.
In this case, a “mess” is a very difficult, complicated or even dangerous situation. More generally, a mess is great disorder or dirtiness.
As a matter of fact, one of my uncles is a janitor for Columbine school.
A “janitor” is a person who cleans schools and
other buildings and makes minor repairs in them.
A list of the suspects. :: A list of students who’d
potentially call in a bomb threat after Columbine?
“Potentially” is another word for possibly, or having the potential to do something. A “threat” is the act of expressing a possible intent to do something harmful.
This town really gets people down. :: But why’d they single you out?
If a town “gets people down,” it depresses them or makes them feel bad.
To “single out” a person is to focus on them alone, out of a possible list or group of many other people.
I was a troubled kid.
A good adjective for a person with many emotional problems.
I have The Anarchist’s Cookbook. It shows
you how to make bombs and stuff like that.
A well known book. An “anarchist” is a person
who believes that there should be no government.
I made a good five gallon drum of napalm.
A “gallon” is a unit of measurement for liquids, and a drum is a fairly big container. “Napalm” is a horrible chemical herbicide that kills forests and jungles, that was used widely by the US during the Vietnam war.
I know it’s kind of silly, but I guess it had been like
an ego thing, knowing that I was number one in Oscoda.
A person’s “ego” is their sense of self-respect or pride. It is a
word associated with the modern psychologist Sigmund Freud.
Why was the building blowed up?
Very bad English!; Note that the past participle should be “blown up!”
I use the pen because the pen is mightier than the sword, but
you must always keep a sword handy for when the pen fails.
“Mighty” means strong or powerful, and a “sword” is a large blade or knife that is used as a deadly weapon (Note that the expression “the pen is mightier than the sword” means that the power of communication and persuasion is often stronger than the power of physical force). To “keep something handy” is to store it in a place where it is easy to get or access.
I sleep with a 44 magnum under my pillow. ::
Come on, that’s what everyone says. Is it loaded?
A “44 magnum” is a well known and powerful handgun. “Come on” is the most versatile phrasal verb in the English language, here used to simply express disbelief or doubt (though it’s said in a sarcastic or funny manner). If a gun is “loaded,” it already has its bullets and is ready to fire.
Nichols has cocked the gun and put it to his temple. [written]
“To cock” a gun is to pull the trigger so that it is just about ready to fire.
A person’s “temple” is the part of their skull on the side of their forehead.
You’ve got to pull the trigger, pull the hammer, and shoot it.
“The trigger” of a gun is the part you move in order to shoot it.
It says arms. :: Do you think you should have
the right to weapons grade plutonium on the farm?
“Arms” can be an alternative word for any type of weapon. “Plutonium” is a dangerous radioactive material used to make nuclear weapons.
So you do believe in some restrictions.
A “restriction” is anything that restricts, restrains or holds back,
or in this case, a legal limit beyond which a person cannot pass.
There’s wackos out there.
An excellent slang word for a person who is crazy or perhaps obsessed with just one thing (Its use here is particularly funny, given who says it).