Two of the rare, satisfying events that have come from the Iraqi War and Occupation were the lifesaving procedures given critically injured TV journalists Kimberly Dozier of CBS and Bob Woodruff of ABC. All America cheered to learn that both reporters had literally been saved by the immediate and continuing medical treatment they received.
Michael Moore, M.D., which stands for Muckraker Dude, gives the other side of the healthcare story here in America in his latest polemic piece of cinema called "Sicko." In it, the good doctor Moore employs the sharpest of scalpels in order to, once again, comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
I was surprised that Moore's film didn't use a common dictum in medicine: "First, do no harm," because "Sicko" is a well-presented and persistently persuasive thread of examples showing harm being done to real Americans in dire need of treatment and therapy. And for those who must know: some of those real Americans looked to be personally irresponsible and some of them were 9/11 heroes.
Taking on HMOs, hospitals, insurance and pharmaceutical companies as well administrative physicians and the public servants who fit so snugly and comfortably in the pockets of this nation's massive healthcare system---public and private---Flint's leading filmmaker causes one who sees his movie to actually feel more shame than sickness about how awfully broken it all is for far too many U.S. citizens.
Visits to Canada, the U.K., France and Cuba (please think controversial) give stark contrast between how healthcare is financed and delivered in those nations and that paid for and given here in United States. Moore also takes a stroll down memory lane as to how HMOs took root in the U.S.
Audio tape conversations and photos of President Nixon and John Ehrlichman reveal the first attention paid to bringing managed care on line. Nixon discusses the concept with his aide, and says that he took a meeting to advance the idea another step with Edgar Kaiser of the Kaiser Foundation.
President Reagan's voice is even heard on a recording that was distributed before he came to office in Sacramento. The Gipper laments the dangers that lurk in socialized medicine. (A U.K. government doctor, who earns about £85,000 a year, is shown with his family in their 3-story London home.) Moore paints these scenes of the formulation of modern-day U.S. medicine in shades of the riotous old film, "Reefer Madness." I hastily add here that director Moore is careful not to go even one toke over the line during these few moments of noirish reflection.
Moore's presence in his films gives them continuity and a sort of blue-collar style. That goes for his narration as well. However, in "Sicko," I was unimpressed with Moore's delivery of script at the moments when he's describing the very unfortunate circumstances of people in great need of medical attention. His tone is nigh onto maudlin, and suggests subjects of his documentary are being patronized. A slightly less sentimental voicing would have made the movie even more compelling than it already is.
It's difficult not to compare "Sicko" with "Fahrenheit 9/11," and I want to make this easy for me, so: "Fahrenheit" is more hyperbolic than "Sicko." That could be because the killing of over 3000 people in only a few minutes time is horrific unto itself, but "Sicko," as I saw it, moved me even more than "Fahrenheit." It's much more reflexive in terms of who the culprits are in the morass of American healthcare we've come to define as languishing in crisis.
Despite the flaws and cant, Michael Moore is not totally unlike Daniel Pearl in that with his films he, as Mariane Pearl said of her late husband, "holds up a mirror and forces people to look at themselves. What better way is there to respect humanity?" (From my review of "A Mighty Heart.")
Respecting humanity is integral to its healing. Just ask your doctor.
Addendum: My first viewing of "Sicko" was in solitude. The second time I saw it was the following evening at a sold-out sneak preview in a large Sacramento cineplex. Ive never heard so much intermittent applause during a movie before, and I noticed some in the audience were leaning forward in their seats.