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Sicko

Reviewed By Rob Gonsalves
Posted 06/29/07 02:00:00

"Moore's diagnosis is grim, but the prognosis is hopeful."
5 stars (Awesome)

Michael Moore comes across best when he’s asking questions, or making movies in the form of questions, and in 'Sicko' he asks the big one: Who are we? Not in the cosmic sense, but as Americans.

How have we gotten to the point where we live with a cruel, unjust health-care system and not only do we accept it — we can’t imagine it any other way? Who thinks it’s okay that medical decisions that can mean life or death should be influenced by money? Who thinks that dumping patients on the street when they can’t pay their hospital bills is what America should be all about? Who could be proud of a nation that treats its people this way?

In other countries, all of this is unthinkable. Moore takes his cameras to Canada, where an American woman drives across the border and pretends to be a Canadian man’s common-law wife in order to get the cancer medications she’s been denied back home. He visits a crowded hospital waiting room and mock-naïvely asks the patients how long they waited and how much they paid. The answers: About 45 minutes at most, and nothing. Moore goes to England, where doctors are paid (very well) under the National Health Service according to how healthy their patients are. A cashier in a British hospital is there not to collect money from patients, but to hand out money to patients as reimbursement for transportation. In France, Moore is bewildered to find that the government pays for practically everything, including nannies for new mothers. Is Moore presenting an idealized view of the way other nations do it? Probably. Does that dilute the message that the way America does it is completely screwed? Nope.

In Sicko, Moore casts himself as the fair-minded, common-sense American wanting to know why the country he loves isn’t better. This isn’t a partisan broadside like Fahrenheit 9/11: while Moore makes the case that our health-care dilemma started with Nixon, he takes a few shots at politicians on either side of the aisle, including Hillary Clinton (for backing down on the health-care issue) and even the sainted JFK. This is the Michael Moore who once described Bill Clinton as the best Republican president we’ve ever had. He doesn’t even frame this as a rich-vs.-poor debate; he doesn’t spend much time on people without any health insurance. His focus is on hardworking Americans who thought they were covered until the insurance companies found ways to weasel out of paying, often with lethal results.

Reviewing Fahrenheit 9/11, I said that maybe it should’ve been The Lila Lipscomb Story, after the woman who was radicalized against the Iraq War after losing a son there. Well, Sicko has a whole cast of Lila Lipscombs — ordinary people who don’t just fall through the cracks but are pushed through them. Only the icy of soul and heart will fail to be outraged by the stories Moore finds here — the woman whose husband was denied bone-marrow treatment because it’s “experimental”; the woman whose little girl, in the throes of high fever, was shunted off to another, company-approved hospital only to go into cardiac arrest there; the man who lost the tips of two fingers in a sawing accident and was given a choice — do you want to fix the ring finger for $12,000 or the middle finger for $60,000? Which would you choose? It sounds like a choice the sadist mastermind in the Saw movies would force on his victims. Sicko, indeed.

At the finale, when Moore brings three ailing 9/11 rescue workers to Guantanamo to get the same medical treatment our government assures us Al-Qaeda suspects are getting, Sicko risks grandstanding. The rescue workers get free, excellent treatment in a Cuban hospital, and drugs for five cents. It’s a stunt along the lines of the usual Moore antics, but the point is made: if it’s possible elsewhere, it’s possible here, or should be. Inspired by the Cuban firefighters’ ethos that we are all as brothers and sisters, Moore even donates $12,000 to an anti-Moore blogger whose wife needs urgent medical care he can’t pay for.

What could come off as self-aggrandizing — “Look, I gave money to a guy whose blog attacks me!” — is instead a summing-up of the film’s message, which is not so much that American health care sucks (it does) or that insurance companies are corrupt and venal (they are) but that our society of “me” needs to turn into a society of “we.”

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