Why the world needs a Michael Moore… (Sicko – A Review)

SickoAny media will have these two segments among others – Elitist and Popular. One appeals to your cerebral region and the other gives you your money’s worth for your short attention span. To merge the two is rare and Michael Moore is one such rarity. The content of his matter is far from ‘easy watching’ or ‘light entertainment’, yet his audience; marketing and political reverberations all point to a strong and sizeable fan base.

Moore however, has become a punch line; he has the disadvantage of being a cult figure. Because the topics he covers are so politically sensitive, he invites controversy. That’s why Moore is more known for what he does outside of documentary film making. His pop icon status delivers him the commercial success he needs to lobby further for his other interests. In the midst of all his political activism, anti campaigns and even more hyperbolic pro campaigning he gets branded as a slightly hysterical big mouth. There’s so much noise around him that we forget to see a Moore documentary for what it is.

Therefore before embarking on Moore himself, let’s take a closer look at Sicko.

The opening scenes are that of a man stitching his own knee at home using kitchen scissors because he can’t afford health care. In typical Moore style his tone is cheerful, with a jaunty background score as he narrates real life stories of people who are now dead because they were refused health care.

In America, health care is handled by the private sector and is run entirely by the insurance and drug companies with the focus on profit. That’s why Insurance companies’ look for ways in which to deny their clients health care. Medial loss is the terminology used for any health care given and that denied is called a saving. This, as the documentary unravels, is a grave mistake with disastrous results – because even though socialised medicine has its faults at least the government is accountable and nobody can be denied health care on grounds that they can’t pay which is exactly what’s happening in the States.

In an attempt to find out how this system was set up, we hear Richard Nixon talking with Edgar Kaiser who explains in a few words that the system will quite simply be run for profit; his exact words are “All policies will be towards less medical care”. Hillary Clinton, while her husband was in office, took over the national health scheme of the government and promised to change it to guarantee universal health care. This move backfired though, because it became a personal vendetta against her (with claims of her getting undue advantage and a free ride by virtue of sharing a bed with the president) and later on as her own political aspirations got in the way, her silence was bought by the drug companies. There is actually a fact sheet that’s released to the public, which states how much money has been ‘donated’ by these companies to the various senators.

So Moore sets out to other countries to see how they handle their health care. As always he’s all praise for Canada’s system which is government run. We learn more about Britain’s hugely successful NHS scheme. Moore walks around the public hospital trying to find out ‘where to pay’ and is actually laughed at by the attendant (all Indians – please note) in the emergency ward when he mentions money. He asks a couple who’ve just had a baby how much they had to pay and their answer – Nothing, it’s all NHS, This is not America (laughter all around). France finds a fan in Moore. Apparently all health care focus there is preventative care; what’s more the government sends you a paid nanny who even does your laundry for you. They have something called SOS Medical, it’s like a 911 for dial a (free) doctor to come look you up at home for alarming things like flu, a kid’s wee wee hurting etc.

After showing us the rest of the world, Moore returns to America to pull of a rather weird and embarrassing stunt where he takes fire fighters and rescue aid workers who helped during 9/11 to Guantanamo Bay and demands health care. Apparently the prison has top class health facilities for the inmates, and Moore asks – Can you give our national heroes what you’re giving the bad guys? Obviously they’re ignored and Moore turns to neighbouring Cuba. Cuba’s health care is also shown as a better example and for the controversy Moore received in lauding Castro’s regime, the actual footage is just at the fag end of the movie and honestly there’s nothing controversial about it. All we see is a unit of bewildered Cuban fire fighters who are hugged one after the other by the sick people Moore’s got along with him.

The real horror however is watching taxis drop off sick and disoriented people at the Union Rescue Mission in California. That’s the point when Moore really delivers because he shows us a part of America that we don’t get to see, a part, which we don’t know even, exists. We never see the poor, the old – who are simply dropped off the street because they couldn’t pay their bills. Never do we hear of the injustice in America– that stuff’s for China and Saudi Arabia. Up until now. That’s why this documentary is worth a watch – even though he makes other systems look rosier than they actually are and the insurance system deliberately bleak, he definitely has a point. Health care is crucial and so paramount that it simply cannot be run for profit. The sick, the old, the poor or any combination of the three are the responsibility of the government and have to be taken care of. After a lifetime of paying taxes they should at least be assured of health care but with the current system they don’t receive even the bare minimum.
I was still confused about this man though, I wasn’t fully convinced about the legitimacy of his facts. It was a bit too smartly and sassily done. So I turned to my trusted friend, the Internet to find out more. The net has plenty of material that’s Anti-Moore and is a bit intimidating because of the sheer volume and viciousness. Moore has been accused of many crimes – some minor, like getting rich, which is really not his fault if his movies do well. But more seriously, he deceives you into thinking he’s giving you an in depth analysis when actually he’s just skimming the surface and oversimplifying a situation. He doesn’t lie about facts but he tells you only enough to form his opinion, not an informed one.

Here’s what I think. Yes, maybe he is a bit too clever but at least he gets up and does something. Granted his work is manufactured for mass viewing, but he laughs at himself, (which never goes out of fashion), he takes jibes at the American dream and he narrates in an easy and humorous way that’s makes the viewer feel they’re in on joke. Moore has created his own unique way to constructively (debatable choice of word) criticise the government and do it with a loudspeaker. That’s why the world needs a Michael Moore – to get issues on board, draw attention to them, get the debate started, get us thinking of the problem, its possible solutions, understanding the complexities involved and searching for our own ways of change and all this on a scale that is unprecedented for the issues concerned.

Inayat Sabhikhi