Written & Directed by: Michael Moore
Color, 113 minutes
The cell phones are put on vibrate, the audience finally shuts up, and the lights go down on Sicko, Michael Moore's scathing attack on the American health care system. In the past, I have laughed along with Moore's films. Sure, he's made me think, and made me angry. He has a special way of compiling so many obvious truths together that we can't help but be overcome, and his use of satire often outweighs the scarier moments, but Sicko is different monster. Yes, many people will laugh, they will find the irony and the hypocrisy, and they will enjoy their two hours. Some will laugh just because Moore himself is such a character, and some will laugh because that's the only way they know how to deal with the things that are put on display. But me, I didn't laugh. Ten minutes into the film, a devastating and unshakable feeling of sadness came over me. Not just for the nearly 50 million American citizens that don't have health insurance, but for all of us. To be honest, Moore doesn't present anything new or revolutionary with this film, he simply lays it out for all to see, and by the end of the film, I was emotionally spent. This is one of the most frightening, heartbreaking, utterly hopeless experiences that I've ever had watching a film. And I'm all the more thankful for it.
The first 30 minutes or so focus on stories of individuals, some covered by insurance, some not. We see one terrifying incident after another: accidentally losing two fingers to a table saw, a man has to choose which finger to have reattached; middle finger for $60,000 or ring finger for $12,000. Which do you think he chose? Parents, with a little girl going deaf, are manhandled and told that a cochlear implant for two ears is "experimental," they'll have to settle for one. A woman, who works for a hospital, fights for cancer treatment that could potentially save her husband's life. Each form of treatment is refused, because they too are considered "experimental," even though they are all FDA approved. Her husband dies. Another woman rushes her infant daughter to the hospital after a fever induced seizure. The E.R. refuses treatment, because her insurance only covers certain hospitals. Her baby goes into cardiac arrest, and dies. A Southern California hospital begins treatment on their homeless patients, reconsiders, and then puts them in a cab and leaves them, still in hospital gowns, abandoned on a sidewalk in front of the nearest homeless shelter. Are you starting to see a pattern emerge here? And this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Moore, ever willing to pound his point further and further into our heads, visits Canada, France, England, and even Cuba just to show how inept and greedy America has become. We see how these countries benefit from Universal health care (a.k.a. "Socialized medicine"), and we see just how hard America has fought to keep us from becoming like them. Everything comes into play: drug companies, HMO's, Nixon, Reagan, Bush (Sr. and Jr.), Hillary Clinton, and even the American Medical Association. The oppressors spring up like a hydra, with heads involved in all aspects of government, virtually impossible to defeat. Every person in a powerful position has his or her price, and there is always enough money to throw around. The verdict is clear: health care in this country is nothing but an ever-growing stream of broken promises, paper trails, and lives lost unnecessarily. We've become a crumbling nation, one that is afraid, ignorant, and completely unsympathetic towards its citizens.
Sure, Moore knows how to spin, skip, and manipulate things to fit his artistic vision. We don't really need the close-ups of children, balling their eyes out, saying goodbye to their father who is leaving for a construction job in Iraq. We could do without the use of a certain bit of music from Platoon in a scene where a doctor testifies before Congress, saying that she essentially killed a man by denying him service in order to save the HMO a little bit of money. Taking 9/11 rescue workers, who were refused care because they were "volunteers," to Guantanamo Bay to ask for treatment is there simply to cram the irony down our throats, and we shouldn't forget that the foreign hospitals that Moore visits are very aware that there are cameras in front of their faces. They will obviously want to look good. Regardless of these complaints, I believe the film succeeds simply because there is so much truth and heartache from real people treated horribly, horribly wrong by the system.
To Moore's own credit, though, this is his most mature work to date. He plays it cool most of the time, letting images and stories unfold naturally. Yes, his voice over narration is always right around the corner with another smart-ass comment, but it's actually needed here. Without it, the proceedings would be nearly unbearable to sit through as frightening as they are. His voice, and presence, becomes a welcome addition, because it's essential to have a few light moments here and there. As an interviewer, he's less fierce than usual, he doesn't set out to make anyone look like an idiot, he knows this material is above that. Even though he ends the film on an egotistical note, his soapbox is not nearly as high off the ground this time. He wants this film to be accessible to everyone, and it is. Moore doesn't have the subtlety and patience of someone like Errol Morris, and because of this, he has to resort to more entertaining methods. They may be a bit much at times, but, more often than not, they work. Personally, I have enjoyed all of his documentaries, but this is his greatest achievement by far.
Some will not want to see this film, because of Moore's former excursions, but I ask you to look past that and reconsider. This isn't a political issue, it isn't a monetary issue, it's basic human rights. We should all see this film, not just for ourselves, but for our children and loved ones. Some of us are lucky, we haven't yet been treated unfairly by the health care system, but many of us out there are not as fortunate. Those individuals need a voice, and Moore is it. Take two hours, spend ten dollars, and put yourself in someone else's shoes for a while. You may not like what you see, but your life will be better because of it. Amen to that.