I saw my first movie since Oscar season last night, using my last two free passes to The Charles to attend opening night of Michael Moore's Sicko.
I know that he is a very controversial figure, but I'm someone who thinks Moore is a great American. I don't agree with him all the time, and don't always agree with his methods, but his combination of anger and humor to instill social change is something that I think will age well. I think that if noted satirists like Mark Twain were alive today, they would be doing something like Moore does. He is, of course, a Michigan native, and I've seen him speak several times, and I feel a sense of homestate pride whenever I see or hear him in the media (the ubiquitous Tigers or Spartans hat helps).
That being said, I sort of wish that someone else had made this movie. Not because I was disappointed with it, but because Moore is such a polarizing figure, half the country who doesn't like him will probably not see this movie. And that's too bad, because it's an eye-opening and heart-wrenching look at the issue of universal health care, which hopefully will become a major issue in the upcoming Presidential election. It's unbelievable that we're the only Western nation not to offer it to all of its citizens.
The film is best when it focuses on the stories of the everyday Americans who are denied health care despite being fully insured; the most affecting for me was the story of Tracy Pierce, who dies at 37 of kidney cancer after a bone marrow transplant is denied as "experimental," after his little brother proves a perfect match. And Moore's examination of how the country has come to this for-profit system of health care - going back to Nixon tapes - is insightful. My favorite parts after the personal stories probably centered around the interview of an old British guy talking about democracy, about how it works only because people are healthy and educated. I'd pay $50 to listen to that old British guy talk for two hours, actually.
I wished Moore had gone more into the other "socialistic" systems that America has - he mentions firefighters, police, education, sanitary workers - and talked about the failure that movements to, say, privatize education have brought. Privatizing medical care has also been a failure, as would privatizing any of the above-mentioned services.
For me, the film's flaws surface in the last quarter of film, when Moore goes too overboard on the France love. The film is about health care; why is it important that, in France, there is governmental assistance to mothers for doing laundry? These sort of utopian visions of society won't do much to convince middle-of-the-road Americans that universal health care is possible in the United States. I also didn't much care for the Cuba stunt, simply because it felt like a commercial for Cuba (a country that ranks #39, two slots behind the US, in health care for its citizens), although I admit to crying a bit during the firefighter scene.
Others will criticize the film for being one-sided, which, like all Moore's films, it is. He's not claiming to be an objective storyteller; he's trying to convince people of something, and educated audience members know this. One interesting thing to me is that most of the criticisms of the film involve his praise of the health care systems in other countries, and these folks plug the months-long wait for care in Canada and France as evidence of its falsehood. And I think this might be true in some situations there, but it's also certainly true here in our HMO system. When I had shoulder pain last year, it took me several months and several doctor visits to get the one cortizone shot that eliminated the pain.
So, overall, I felt like Sicko was typical Michael Moore - a sad, funny, and often brilliant mix of personal interviews, retro stock footage, and stunts. It was moving and frustrating at the same time, like all of his films. I still think his masterpiece is Bowling for Columbine, but even that had its moments I didn't care for (the Heston interview). I'll probably never be 100% satisfied with a Michael Moore film, but I'll always feel like I've learned something and leave the theater wanting to change the world.
And it helps that he wears a Michigan State Spartan hat or a Detroit Tigers hat through almost all of his films.
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