"Sicko" explores the sick joke of U.S. health care

by Eric Melin on June 28, 2007

in Print Reviews

America’s most divisive filmmaker is back at it again with “Sicko,” a new documentary that takes on this country’s broken down health care system with a potent mix of satirical humor and thought-provoking cultural questions. More than a political polemic, this film discusses an issue that affects all ages and people from all walks of life.

What Michael Moore offers in “Sicko” is perspective. Any movie that he makes will be narrated by the man, and although all the facts in the movie are triple-checked by a crack team of lawyers, the point of view is undoubtedly Mr. Moore’s. Those who don’t like the pushy rabble-rouser may only be able to level one criticism at him after seeing “Sicko.”

How dare Michael Moore make his movie so damned entertaining?

After the unexpected success of the polarizing “Fahrenheit 9/11,” he has been riding the double-edged sword of notoriety. On one hand, he was so overexposed that many will never want to see him again. But his high profile also allows him a unique opportunity for people with stories to tell to easily contact him—and contact him they did.

As he states at the beginning of the movie, this is not a film about the uninsured, it is about those who have insurance and still aren’t covered. There’s the woman whose emergency ambulance ride disqualified her because it wasn’t approved, and the Kansas City man whose bone marrow transplant was denied because it was an “experimental” treatment. The first half hour of “Sicko” has enough health care horror stories to make you ill, but Moore’s goals are loftier than simply complaining about co-pays, deductibles, and expensive drugs.

What makes “Sicko” such an effective op-ed piece is that it demands that its audience re-evaluate its thinking and ask the question, “Who are we?” How can we be the only western nation without free health care? When examining the government-sponsored health care in Canada, England, France, and even Cuba, it is an eye-opener to see that their citizens cannot even fathom our approach to medical care in the great democracy of the United States.

After a good amount of ridicule showing red scare propaganda films to make fun of our fear of socialized medicine, Moore offers a history lesson not often taught. A member of the English Parliament posits that following the devastation in that country during World War II, free health care “began with democracy,” since it was created when the poor voted.

Later, at Great Britain’s National Health Service, Moore is convinced this is all good to be true and spends his time trying to find out where people pay. Feigning disbelief is a put-on, yes, but an effective one. When he finally finds a cashier, he “discovers” that they are not taking money, but giving it out—actually reimbursing patients for the gas money they spent coming to the center for care.

It is another example of why Moore, one of the best satirists of our time, puts people in the seats. He is able to pinpoint an absurd and wrong situation and play it for laughs like no other. He uses 1950s footage to show us the idealized version of “the good life” when he’s discussing a modern-day counterpoint. Moore also finds the most bizarre relics, like an old spoken word LP from 1962 featuring actor Ronald Reagan speaking out about the evils of socialized medicine.

He wields wit like a scalpel, showing public access C-SPAN footage where our lawmakers basically hang themselves with stupid comments. A more low-key filmmaker might be afraid of the upfront brand of hubris Moore is capable of, but when it’s on, it hurts. After presenting evidence that our Congress is basically in the pocket of the billionaire CEOs that run the health care companies, Moore uses a roll call introduction of everyone as an opportunity for sheer ridicule. Price tag graphics appear on the screen with a sly “ding” sound effect that show how much money each member has taken. All the while, the politicians are smiling away and waving to thunderous applause.

It is all part of the public record, and it’s just been sitting there waiting for someone to put it together. Moore’s researchers also traced back what he claims to be the birth of the HMOs—a taped conversation in the White House between President Richard Nixon and Watergate conspirator John Erlichman who says, “All the incentives are toward less medical care.” The two discuss a way for health care companies to pay less of their patient’s bills and make more money. The very next day, Nixon stands in front of TV cameras to announce a great new program that will benefit all Americans.

Those against universal health care will say that the wait list is enormous and the doctors and equipment are not as advanced, but there is obviously something inherently wrong with a system that bonuses its doctors for denying medical care. People will blast Moore for not representing the “other side” of the argument, but it is precisely the other side that has allowed us to be inured to such insults. If one wants to hear an opposing viewpoint, turn on the news or go see someone else’s movie.

“Sicko” uses a humanistic approach and tries to get at the psychology of a very bad situation. In a democracy, the people should not be held hostage by a system like this, Moore suggests, and the mere existence of his movie is an example of what makes this country great. His dissent, argument, and theatrical style of presentation are all uniquely American. “Sicko” should and will get people talking.

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of Scene-Stealers.com and writes the Screen Stealers column for The Pitch. He’s President of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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