When Michael Moore makes a movie these days, all hell seems to break loose. It
gets to a point where whatever message he’s trying to communicate is drowned out
by all the media attention, knee-jerk reactionaries, and general resentment.
With “Sicko,” Moore is embarking on a topic that is vital to the might of
America, seeded with a message that everyone in the country should be, at the
very least, aware of. This is health care, and it is killing our nation.
Of course, I’ve been a great admirer of Moore’s for some time,
always willing to embrace his big screen pole vaults of satire and acidic truth.
“Sicko” comes after the unreal success of “Fahrenheit 9/11,” a picture that gave
Moore the most power he’s ever enjoyed and sent his loudest critics into a
spastic, wildly entertaining Curly-shuffle of frustration. It comes as little
surprise that Moore, now with the world’s attention, has selected the hornet’s
nest issue of health care for his latest picture.
“Sicko” is a persuasive piece of “informational entertainment,”
(perhaps “documentary” no longer covers what Moore is trying to accomplish
here), picking up a rock and throwing at the fanged, mile-high, tentacled beast
called privatized health care. It’s a spectacular look at America and the
corruption that rots our very core, swallowing the interests of our leaders and
mercilessly disposing of our most needy. Did I mention the film is a comedy?
Narrated by and appearing in the second half of the film is Moore,
who is astounded that his country is unwilling to fix what clearly is a broken
system. “Sicko” isn’t a comprehensive argument for repair, but it isn’t meant to
be. Moore gives the viewer enough examples of failure and deception to cook up a
frothy stew of amazement and poignancy, spending time with the individuals
instead of a flow chart of indifference. Not every corner of health care is
exposed; Moore leaves that minutiae to the political pundits, as they chase
their tails to a point of exhaustion and social irresponsibility. Instead, Moore
paints a dramatic picture of the way things are headed, and his point of view is
At times bitingly hilarious and other times profoundly horrific,
“Sicko” provocatively examines how America built its current system of coverage,
tracing the line back to Nixon, who supported Henry Kaiser and his efforts to
extract top dollar for lowball health care. The fruit of that greed is found
today, with over 47 million Americans living without health insurance and the
rest barely able to stay ahead of their co-pays, rate hikes, and flimsy denials
the insurance providers abuse to shake off the undesired.
Moore steps out to meet those who were refused benefits for a
variety of unethical reasons; middle-class folk from the U.S. who became tangled
in the system with no chance for survival. One gentleman without coverage had to
“Sophie’s Choice” which finger he could afford to reattach after a carpentry
accident. Another elderly couple is so lost in debt from their medical co-pay
bills they have to move in with their kids for help. Several other stories zero
in on the increasingly ludicrous and fraudulent ways the insurance giants dodge
their obligation of payment. These tales are purposefully venomous, casting the
industry in a viciously unflattering light where every person insured is just
dollar sign for the money mulch, and not a human being.
Without question, the cancer at the heart of the predicament is
greed. In America, health care is almost an exclusive club, and membership is
becoming increasingly difficult to acquire. As with any business, the bottom
line is profit; however with health care, shouldn’t compassion and a hint of
fairness come into play? Money says no, the government says no, and this sends
Moore to other countries to find out where fair play factors into the business
of restoring health to humans.
The second half of “Sicko” jets Moore to Canada, France, and Britain
to take a peek at how their health systems operate and to meet American
expatriates who bolted from their home country for greener medicinal pastures.
The result is traditional bouncy Moore-ish revelations of a utopian, socialized
industry that considers the patient before the pay. Now, the intricacies of the
foreign systems are not addressed (see Denys Arcand‘s “The Barbarian Invasions”
for a more sobering look at Canada’s health system), but Moore has never been
one to stop a film for the smaller details. He’s going after the larger
juxtapositions of countries that are willing to help their citizens versus the
American system, which, in the feature, resembles a relentless jackal scrambling
for every ounce of meat it can sink its teeth into before being caught.
Moore being Moore, there is brief footage of President Bush boobing
it up in public about the American work ethic and health concerns, yet “Sicko”
is not a political picture. Outside of roasting Hilary Clinton on her
repulsively two-faced history with the health care industry (the film is a lite
version of “Fahrenheit 9/11” for Clinton) and a general understanding that most
politicians are corrupt and couldn’t care less about their country, “Sicko” hugs
tightly to the human element, openly hypothesizing that change will only arrive
on these shores when average Americans stop fearing their government as taught
and take the future of the nation into their own hands.
For his master stroke, Moore takes a group of 9/11 rescue workers
currently in the throes of debilitating health situations to Guantanamo Bay,
Cuba, where it was revealed that suspected terrorists in detention at the
American military base were offered the finest health care imaginable, while our
“heroes” were left to rot in a system that denied them coverage due to miles of
red tape and sickening indifference. The sequence is a beaut, working both as an
ironic comedic premise Moore is truly gifted at spinning and as an eye-opening
look at Cuba’s health system; a working model of ramshackle productivity in a
country we’ve all been taught to hate, without the slightest understanding how
it actually conducts business.
I can’t imagine “Sicko” will be as polarizing as previous Moore
efforts, but there are those who make a living hating the man (if only the anti-Vin
Diesel lobby paid!). I choose to view Moore as rotund, filthy rich superhero,
trying his best to defend the population and inform the greater good. Even if
his intentions are blown off course or his ego unrivaled, his goals are always
admirable, and his motion pictures are consistently hysterical, devastating,
dynamic pieces of entertainment.