Monday, 2 July 2007
Sicko (2007) dir. Michael Moore
Michael Moore’s latest film, “Sicko” strikes a blow to the heart of the corrupt and faulty American medical system. Like all his films, but especially since “Bowling for Columbine” and “Fahrenheit 9/11”, Moore’s method of documentaries has as many admirers as detractors. “Sicko” will likely divide the partisans again with this film since it’s essentially a two-hour lobby for public health care in the U.S. And just so you know though I’m a left leaning person I also studied economics in school so I understand the conservative mindset. All things considered “Sicko” scores highest marks as a political statement and a piece of entertainment and should be seen by everyone.
The United States is the only country in the ‘developed world’ without a universal health care system. Are they right and everyone else wrong? No, it’s the bravado of the U.S. free enterprise bastion. And, unfortunately, as a result of its stubbornness privatized medicine has only furthered the inequality between the haves and the have-nots.
Michael Moore starts off with the have-nots and shows about a dozen examples of hard-working patriotic, non free-loading Americans whom the system has let down. There’s a man who accidentally cut his fingers off with a circular saw and who was given the option of reattaching either his middle finger or his ring finger for two drastically different prices; or the woman who describes how her deceased husband’s insurance company denied a claim for a bone marrow transplant for being “experimental” surgery. The film follows the same narrative path as "Columbine" and "Farenheint 9/11" when Moore compares the U.S. system to other countries in the world and in the third act takes the initiative to make a difference and help the cause of his subjects.
Since it’s all over the news, I’m not spoiling anything by revealing that Moore takes his subjects to Guantanemo Bay, Cuba to see what kind of health care they can get in a prison for Al Quaida terrorists. This sequence isn’t quite the humourous climax Moore may have expected, but it’s a wonderful sequence, and has a similar effect to when he brought the Columbine shooting victims to Walmart in “Bowling For Columbine”. But before he leaves Cuba the emotional climax does indeed arrive, though from an unexpected source which I won’t reveal.
A minor quibble of the Moore formula is his sarcastic faux-naivety which can get on your nerves for its simpleton approach. His voiceover blatantly mocks the conservative right by describing the contrast in the two systems with the inflection of reading a book to a child. I feel audiences are smart enough to get his point without the handholding. Saying that, it also provides the much needed humour to counterpoint the general downbeat nature of the film.
I do realize that this sarcastic inflection isn’t directed at me but the typical American ignoramus who can’t find Britain on a map, and who believes the myths fed to them about public medicine. And to Moore's credit he smartly has his counter-arguments already lined up to quell of the misconceptions of longer wait times, lower paid doctors, poorer quality care and out of date technology.
I had a very close second hand experience with an American medical horror story. Several years ago my boss at the time, who, because he was 73 and diabetic, couldn’t get insurance for a trip to the U.S. from Canada. He went anyways and collapsed from dehydration in his hotel. He found himself in a Las Vegas hospital with an apparent heart condition he never thought he had. Before he was finally allowed out of the hospital he had had a triple bypass and amassed a bill for almost $300,000 Cdn. It’s wasn’t the doctor’s fault. The care my boss received was impeccable. Moore rightly puts the blame on the insurance companies that run the industry as a purely profit-driven venture. Companies like Aetna and Kaiser Permanente are driven and motivated by stock prices instead of providing care for the patients.
So who knows, if CEOs of insurance companies ever had to take the Hippocratic Oath American medicine may not be in the trouble that it’s currently in. Enjoy.