War in Iraq, Viewed Through the Blurred Lens of Rural America
It's called shooting fish in a barrel. Asked to express their opinions about the war in Iraq, the mostly unidentified subjects of this documentary polemic, "This Ain't No Heartland," are only too happy to make fools of themselves. Their fundamental ignorance of the facts, compounded by their disinterest in knowing more, doesn't prevent them from expressing strong opinions and conveying misinformation in bad grammar.
To make the movie, which opened yesterday in New York at the Two Boots Pioneer Theater, the Austrian filmmaker and photographer Andreas Horvath visited a half-dozen Midwestern states to select the fish for his barrel. The subjects he chose are ill-informed rural and small-town Americans who have not followed the war beyond absorbing a few sound bites from television.
As one unidentified woman claims in a fiery speech that is heard but not seen, "We fought the most moral war that has ever been fought by any people." She goes on to assert that no country waging a war has done so much to protect innocent civilians. Most believe that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction despite all the evidence to the contrary, and some are certain that his goal was to conquer the United States. The events of 9/11 have also left their mark. One person after another imagines that the Midwest is as vulnerable to attack as New York or Washington. That belief bolsters their vehement opposition to gun control.
The film returns several times to a bar where a group of increasingly tipsy beer drinkers tell racist jokes and fantasize fending off invading armies. The rowdiest of the group gleefully imagines facing down "two billion screaming Chinamen coming at you," with a certainty that America would win. Feeling no pain, he drops his trousers and moons the camera. We also meet the contestants in a demolition derby whose damaged vehicles are souped up with flags and the name Jesus.
In the filmmaker's nightmarish view, the heartland is a decaying citadel of ignorance, boorishness and xenophobia, smugly rotting away in the twilight of the American empire.