Fri 22 Jun 2007
Directed by Michael Moore
Dog Eat Dog Films/The Weinstein Company/Lionsgate Films, 2007
It doesn’t take much to get Michael Moore’s blood going these days. From his essay on corporate America (Roger and Me) and critique of American gun culture (Bowling for Columbine) to his assault on the Iraq War (Fahrenheit 9/11), there does not seem like much good happens in Moore’s America. On his third major motion picture, SiCKO, Moore once again writes, directs, and produces his brand of progressivist commentary, only this time, he targets a topic of universal appeal: the American health care system.
SiCKO opens with two stories, one of a man who has to stitch a gash on his own leg; another who had to chose – based on price differential – whether he wanted to re-attach the sawed off tip of his middle finger or of his ring finger (the difference being almost $48,000 between the two fingers).
Lest we think the rest of the movie is going to be this gory, these are just mere examples to prepare the audience for the gore of the health care system itself. Moore spares no expense of emotion in his typical stylistic approach of documenting all of the people whom the “system” has wronged. In spite of this, his over-the-top propagandism at least starts to show its maturity in SiCKO by taking a less involved approach to telling a story.
And telling a story is exactly what Moore is good at. His folksy demeanor is what makes his movies worth watching and listening to what’s coming from his soapbox bearable.
After being distressed at the horror stories of managed medical care, Moore starts to look back on the history of HMOs and Nixon’s involvement in the February 1971 shift toward managed health care. From there, the audience is taken to Canada, where a conservative retiree talks down the American “only take care of yourself” mentality. Of course, Moore’s wife is Canadian, so there’s automatically some bias, and he interviews his own relatives for the film, but that’s beside the point.
Moore then goes to London, where former Member of Parliament Tony Benn praises post-WWII National Health Services (“If you can find money to kill people, you can find money to help people”) and a British doctor – government paid, obviously – links his £85,000 per year plus bonuses salary to a universal health care system that incentivizes promoting better health.
The story then shifts to France, where one is expected to find rising anti-Americanism but instead finds a health system where “you pay according to your means but receive according to your needs.” Though it is obvious that Moore has focused his foreign attentions on more middle-class families, it also contrasts a higher overall standard of living nonetheless – a testament to the greater sense of community on the issue of health.
And why shouldn’t there be a sense of community?
This question is where SiCKO excels in turning public attention back to Hilary Clinton’s neglect of universal health care. In traveling on his much publicized trip to Guantanamo Bay (providing a couple of great chuckles) and Cuba, Moore shows that there is a vast inconsistency between the general American communal spirit of say, 9/11, and the lack of communal spirit in American managed health care. After all, we should live in a world of ‘we,’ not a world of ‘me,’ right?
Sure, people will suggest that Moore’s inherent progressive bias is too one-sided, but it’s more difficult than with his previous films to assert that there can be even be such a partisan stance on an issue as universal as human health. In an added bit of irony, the first song of the closing credits is “Don’t Be Shy,” by Yusuf Islam (formerly known as Cat Stevens). However, Moore starts to let the people and the story tell themselves, appearing on-camera more sparsely than before. In fact, he isn’t even seen for at least the first 45 minutes of the film. For credibility’s sake, this works to his advantage.
Perhaps there are more questions to be posed after watching SiCKO than there are actually answered (i.e., Can’t part of America’s high health care costs be attributed to issues beyond profit motive, like skyrocketing medical malpractice suits? Aren’t there funding problems with Health Canada, S.O.S. Medicins, and NHS?).
But Moore has never really aimed to solve problems, nor answer questions with his movies. His goal has been to lead social dialogue on the issues that should be important to Americans and bring the plights of the ‘abused’ to the forefront of mainstream American society.
Will there truly be a solution to the questions that Michael Moore himself poses throughout the film? He likes to think that the grassroots will start to affect change, but the reality is that in America, the politicians are the ones with the power to move universal health care forward. At least with SiCKO, Moore is trying to point the rest of us in that better direction.
(For my initial comment outside the theatre, check out New York magazine’s Entertainment & Culture blog)