Long before Stephen Colbert coined the word “truthiness,” filmmaker Michael Moore perfected, if not invented, the concept and changed documentary filmmaking forever with movies like “Roger and Me” and “Bowling for Columbine.” In both films, as well as the now infamous and somewhat prophetic “Fahrenheit 9/11,” he cleverly edited footage and manipulated facts to narrate the story as he saw fit–while still calling himself a journalist. (If you don’t believe me, just click here and here for starters.) Moore’s latest film “Sicko” takes on yet another timely, serious cultural issue–the American healthcare system–and unfortunately gives it about the same indepth treatment as a 90-minute infomercial.
“Sicko” is comprised of mainly a handful of anecdotes from a few hard-working Americans (it should be noted that most of these anecdotes are actually a decade or more old ) who have been victimized by the healthcare system due to lack of insurance or due to denial of care by their existing insurance. Intertwined with these anecdotes are interviews with Moore’s Canadian relatives, doctors in Britain and France, and other people who are positively giddy over the quality of the national health care provided in their respective countries. They even chuckle and shake their heads in bewilderment at how any American can survive without a similar system.
The climatic point of the movie is when Moore dares to take a little boat ride to Cuba with some people who became ill after they volunteered at Ground Zero but are being denied health care. He wants to see if they can receive the same quality of health care that the prisoners at Gitmo receive. The event is orchestrated with slightly less dramatic effect than a Broadway musical: Moore is denied treatment at Gitmo and then moves on to Havana where his patients are given the same quality care as any Cuban would be–assuming all Cubans are given medical treatment while American movie cameras are rolling.
My problem with “Sicko” is not its subject matter. It’s pretty difficult to argue that we don’t have serious problems with our healthcare system or that lobbyists aren’t influencing medical policy in Washington. The issues surrounding how to help the uninsured receive adequate medical care or how to hold insurance companies and HMOs accountable for their decisions are numerous and complex.
Occassionally Moore makes some sound points in this film that are worth following up on, but he continues instead to waste screen time on his showboating stunts–like Cuba–his hasty generalizations, one-sided interviews, and slightly inflated statistics used to make his points.
As a recent CNN article correctly pointed out, context as a way of focusing public discourse is what is sadly lacking in this piece of propaganda masquerading as a documentary. There is no context or in-depth analysis of other countries’ fabulous universal health care systems, much less a discussion of how the same system of care could work in a completely different country like the U.S.
For example, there are down sides to the Canadian social healthcare system that are clearly documented by Canadian health organizations. And while Moore claims that paying much higher taxes to the government for things like universal coverage would actually save Americans money in the long run because they will never have to worry about big medical bills, that remains to be adequately documented.
But perhaps Moore felt he couldnt address these real issues in an in-depth way because it would be too risky Such efforts would go against feeding the persona that he has carefully built his career on–a simple, humble man of the people just tryin’ to bring the corporate raiders and government low lifes to their knees–no matter what level of “truthiness” is necessary to sell the story at box office as well as in the Hollywood boardroom.