I'm not sure when it exactly it was that documantary maker and little-guy crusader Michael Moore became some sort of conservatives' boogeyman. After all, the event depicted in his debut film Roger and Me, the closing of Flint Michigan's GM plant and the resulting poverty that ensued, doubtlessly negatively affected as many conservatives as it did liberals or middle-of-the-roaders or, for that matter, I-don't-have-an-affiliation, I-just-want-to-feed-myself-and-my-familyers. His mid-nineties television series TV Nation (most memorable for its hysterical segments of Crackers, the Corporate Crime Chicken) similarly targeted crooked businessmen and other common miscreants who prey on the average guy. Who, other than crooked businessmen, would take umbrage with that? Perhaps it was Bowling for Columbine and its perceived anti-gun issue that started getting him flack from the right. Of course, if you stuck with the film, you'd see that eventually Moore came to the conclusion that guns weren't the problem, any more than Marilyn Manson or bowling. Or maybe-well, almost definitely-it was Fahrenheit 9/11 and its unbridled attack on the policies of the Bush administrations that drew out the harshest critics. Never mind that now, three years subsequent, even George W. himself admits, however blithely, that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 or Al Qaeda, or that his own party is slowly but steadily deserting him and his consistently failed approach to "winning" a war he declared was already won on the deck of an aircraft carrier off the coast of San Diego back in 2003. No, never you mind that. We're here, after all, to discuss the film Sicko, Moore's dissection of the American healthcare industry and its victims, who are often left either destitute, still suffering, or, in the worst cases, just plain dead.
For a filmmaker specializing in documenting perceived injustices, one might not be surprised to hear that the film possesses the ability really piss off its audience, but right from the get-go there seems to be a more depressing edge to this film than many of his previous ones. Even Fahrenheit 9/11 had more laughs off the top than does Sicko, which is saying something. We hear horror stories such as that of a man who lost two fingertips in a bandsaw accident and was offered the prices of $60,000 to replace his middle finger or 12,000 to replace the ring finger. Considering that the structure of these two digits is essentially identical, one cannot help but see blatant profit-minded chain-jerking, or at least an industry with a vested interest in not giving its customers the full and uncensored use of their middle fingers-either way, something is up that's not terribly copacetic with such treatment. Neither is that of the father who couldn't get his healthcare provider to treat his daughter's hearing loss in both of her ears, as the "experimental" treatment was apparently only approved for one ear. While this one anecdote does have a happy-and hilarious-ending, most don't. After all, here in the USA, medical treatment is an industry, not a basic human right. Corporations exist to make money, and the inevitable emergent pattern from such self-sustaining behavior cannot help be anything but devoid of empathy. People are paid to keep the sick from the care they need in order to maximize company profit, and they wonder why so many people object to privatizing Social Security.
In the film's considerably more fun and less depressing second act, we are taken on a grand tour of the health care systems in place in countries such as Canada, England and France, where care is provided cheaply or freely, even for serious health concerns. In contrast, our own profit-before-people approach seems positively Neaderthal. When a self-professed member of Canada's Conservative Party tells Moore that he has no issue with paying taxes for socialized healthcare, saying "I'd hope they'd do the same for me," we are left to wonder just what sort of every-man-for-himself beast we've built here. Towards the end of the film, after showing a clip of security camera video depicting an elderly woman, unable to pay for her hospital care, who is driven in a cab from the hospital to the sidewalk across the street and left wandering dazed and disoriented while still clad only in her hospital gown, Moore impassionedly asks of the viewer, "Who are we?" That's a hard one to answer. One of our most famous monuments asks the world to "give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," yet we seem to turn a blind eye to those yearning to just plain breathe. But of course, that monument came from the French, anyway, a land where waiters are rude, people don't work enough hours per week, get too much vacation time, and without whom we'd have never won our independence-I mean, without whom we'd never have a country to mock for losing to the Nazis. What do they know?
At the climax, Moore gives us one of his classic bits of showboating as he takes three boatloads of afflicted 9/11 rescue workers to Cuba for medical treatment-which they do receive-after they have failed to convince their own country that they warrant being treated like human beings, much less the heroes they are. There's some obvious manipulation going on here; it's not all that hard to see why the Americans were so well treated by the Cuban doctors: people are notoriously more well-behaved when the camera's filming them for all to see. One can also find an incomplete view of the virtual perfection socialized medicine is shown to be in most of the rest of the western world, as Moore shows us a grand total of one comfortably well-off French couple to illustrate that the taxes that pay for all of that care are really not that bad. As one American living in France indicates in an interview, the French people are protesting constantly-the point is made to illustrate that the government listens to the cries of the citizens, but it also indicates that the people do have quite a litany of grievances. Still, the real question at the heart of this whole matter is simply, why does our country treat its best so badly? If the prospect of putting on a good face for the world ekes some decent care out of Cuban doctors, why then can't it shame the same care out of the system that really should be taking care of those people in the first place?
Of course, if you're a conservative, you probably already hate Michael Moore and don't want to hear his point of view. But as the film points out, we have many social programs in our country already, ones which any of us would be outraged to see privatized. Imagine if, after dealing with the horror of losing your home to a fire, you were then presented with a hefty bill from the fire department for bothering to show up and try and put it out. Deplorable that that sounds, it's still better than it would be if such services were modeled on American healthcare, which would run more like this: "No, sorry Ma'am, but your house has a pre-existing condition of already being on fire. We only come out to homes which look as though they're very likely to never catch on fire at all," or "Your kid is too unintelligent to be admitted to public school. We only teach kids who appear as though they don't actually need much teaching. It's more cost effective, see?" And while George W. does make the odd appearance to entertain and disgust us with his typically text-message quality use of the language, Moore, in a refreshingly honest and unexpected turn, saves his most personal attack for Hillary Clinton over the universal health care initiative she once championed and then magically abandoned after receiving over $800,000 in "donations" from health care lobbyists.
Let's face it: we all get sick, we all need help, but not all of us are lucky enough to have it in what we almost ritualistically proclaim to be the greatest country on Earth. In the end, we're all in this together; as punk rock icon Jello Biafra once pointed out, this isn't some left/right wing issue. This is the top versus the bottom, and if you're one of the 95 percent that doesn't control the majority of the world's wealth, maybe we should stop bickering and try to act in the best interest of all those of us who aren't stinking rich.
-review by Matt Murray