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"Sicko" - Michael Moore’s Movie Asks: How Sick Are We?

Reported by Chrish - June 28, 2007 -

Review by Judy Daubenmier

Newsweek magazine called it a “docu-tribe.” Fox News calls it “brilliant” and “up-lifting.”

Who is right?

Most Americans are having their views of Michael Moore’s new movie on health care in the United States shaped before they even have a chance to see it. “Sicko” will not be in local theaters until late June, but a few hundred people were able to judge the film with their own eyes during its “unofficial/official” premiere Saturday (June 16, 2007) in Bellaire, Michigan.

As a member of the first paying audience to see “Sicko,” I did find it “brilliant,” as Fox News described it. “Uplifting” is harder for me to go with.

Moore’s brilliance lies in his approach to the subject in a way that brings it home to the vast majority of Americans, in his willingness to let average people do the talking, and in his mixture of the comedic and the tragic. The end result is a film that tries to wipe away Americans’ unfounded, hyper-fears of federal government involvement in health care.
Rather than trying to get Americans to care about other people, Moore tries to get them to worry about themselves. That is, he tackles the issue of health care not from the vantage point of the uninsured but from the perspective of people who have health insurance but have still been denied care by their insurance company or bankrupted by care only partially covered. Up front, he recognizes the fundamental selfishness of American society.

Again, Moore’s brilliance shines through in his approach to criticism of health insurance companies. Rather than delivering a monologue against the companies, Moore found people within the industry themselves willing to discuss what they did in the name of cutting costs that they now believe harmed people – earning bonuses by denying coverage for procedures and so on. Alongside those cases are plenty of heart-rending examples of people whose family members died because of denied care.

Then comes the comedic, however, to leaven the sadness. Using hilarious footage from an American Medical Society propaganda film from the 1950s about the evils of socialized medicine, Moore confronts head-on Americans’ distrust of national health care.

Moore visits emergency rooms and clinic waiting rooms in Canada and asks people about their health care, how much it costs them, whether they can pick their own doctors, how long they have to wait for care, and so on. He interviews patients and doctors in Great Britain, even visiting a doctor in his $500,000 home to show that doctors are not impoverished by working for the government. He ventures into the heart of the socialist beast – France – to ask a group of transplanted Americans what they think of the French system. And he stuffs his bulky frame into a small car with a French government doctor who makes, get this, house calls.

Moore caps it off with a trip to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, taking along a group of 9/11 rescue workers who can’t get care in the United States and trying to get them into the hospital at the Gitmo prison. They end up receiving high quality care in Fidel Castro’s Cuba.

Woven through Moore’s juxtapositions of the comedic and the tragic is a fundamental question – What kind of people are we? In interview after interview, residents of France, Great Britain, and Canada take it for granted that government should make sure everyone has health care and that they don’t mind paying for someone else’s care because they know that other people would do the same for them. It sounds so civilized, so humane, so neighborly, even Christian if that’s your upbringing.

It’s that question that hangs in the air when you leave the theater – a theater, which, by the way, donated its facilities for the film opening in exchange for profit on the concessions only. How very un-American.

Moore does not provide a final answer his own question. What kind of people are we? That’s up to us.

"Sicko" opens everywhere Friday, June 29th. Check Moviefone.com for a theater near you.