MICHAEL MOORE’S SICKO

What would you do after watching a Michael Moore movie? If you are like me, you will probably walk out of the theatre feeling angry and, later, you’ll chat about it with an uncle who’ll listen sympathetically and then share his own war stories about the U.S. health care system. Whether about the General Motors factory closings (Roger & Me) or gun culture (Bowling for Columbine) the issues Moore tackles involve a grassroots factor—it’s personal. “Sicko,” the title of Michael Moore’s new movie which opened Friday in theatres, sounds like something you’d call a kid who sets ants on fire for fun. It also means something’s broken and has become a parody of itself. The American health care industry and the enormous problems that plague it is what’s at stake here: too bottom-line-driven, too thick-skinned, too, too, too. Sicko got its premiere in Cannes this year (it was an off-competition entry among the official selection) and not without a fair amount of intrigue; just before it, the State department complained that the filmmaker had attempted to enter Guantanamo Bay during the film’s production (a scene in the film involves Moore sailing up to the island of Cuba with a handful of patients). Besides the print he brought to France, Moore had another one shipped to some ‘undisclosed location outside the US,’ in case the American government were to confiscate his–the plot thickens. High seas espionage notwithstanding, the banal stories which make up Sicko are compelling since Moore has a gift for rousing moving anecdotes from the people he interviews. His first subject suffered a jigsaw injury and was told to choose between reattaching one finger or the other, the price tag for either one exorbitant. Moore posits that a lack of health coverage means undue sacrifice. Moore then visits his relatives in Canada to press them about their national health care system, in which everyone is insured and care is state-subsidized. The elderly couple’s mystified look at hearing about the jigsaw accident says it all. Later Moore rides along with an American woman as she drives across the U.S.-Canada border to obtain cheap prescriptions. The sense behind the images seems manipulated, to some degree. We are not privy to the circumstances, but the end result is the same: the U.S. health care system breeds anomalous behavior. Later, Moore takes his cameras to Europe to find out more about this ‘universal coverage concept.’ Again, happy French couples and merry American expats enjoying state-subsidized health coverage. In England, Moore interviews a doctor working for U.K.’s Department of Health, an interesting digression (though one other critics have objected to) designed perhaps to make us see things from the physician’s perspective–up to now, the patient was the only one concerned. Moore successfully alters our perception that government-paid doctors need to make sacrifices compared to their wealthy American counterparts; in fact, doctors in England do quite well on the government payroll, he tells us. This, however, partly helps to illustrate one of Sicko’s drawbacks: its lack of direction. The bearish director loses his focus about halfway through and the stories, while memorable, start to feel like anecdotes strung to one another forming a dense canvas. But this inconsistency in Sicko can’t be from a shortage of material; the health care industry in America has had a crowded history and has involved some of the all-time best presidential foul-ups (first, Nixon and then Clinton). As Moore himself tells us in his film, the personal stories were not in short supply. The number of responses to an online advertisement he posted soliciting testimonies is staggering. So what, then, is the reason for Sicko’s malaise? Too many stories to tell, perhaps? Moore might have focused only on Canada as example of what we could aspire to and interviewed more people at home (both among the grassroots movements, but also elected individuals, etc.). Despite its flaws, Sicko’s strident indictement of the health care industry resonates loudly. Today, Moore posted the following message on his site: “It’s been a weirdly funny week. First Larry King bumped me for Paris Hilton. Then today, when CNBC invited me to the floor of the New York Stock Exchange for an interview, the stock exchange said I was barred from the building. On top of that, Tony Blair is gone, Cheney says he’s no longer answerable to anyone’s elected government, and I simply don’t want an iPhone. Just another week in America” (from michaelmoore.com, June 29, 2007)

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