Sicko

Note to the president: Here's your chance to lock up Michael Moore. The radically fierce and funny fireball he aims at our health-care system is a flat-out invitation to steal. First, Moore shows us how France, England, Canada and — yikes! — Cuba actually help sick people instead of letting them wither and die for lack of health insurance. Then he instructs us to loot those places for ideas. Anti-American? Hell, no. Moore argues that if another country builds a better car, we buy it. If it crafts a better wine, we drink it. Why not free universal health care?

As the agent provocateur of modern cinema, Moore is a moving target. Three of his docs (Roger & Me, Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11) had the bad taste to be box-office hits instead of slouching quietly to oblivion like most documentaries. Look for the reform spirit of Sicko to spark fresh attacks from haters who smear Moore as a fat, shambling, condescending grandstander eager to shade the truth to force a laugh or simplify an issue. Back off, guys. For one thing, he's dieting. For another, Sicko is a movie whose time has come, even if the Treasury Department is already on his case for illegally taking a boatload of lung-sick 9/11 rescue workers to Cuba for free medical care they can't get at home. Another dumb move from the Dubya camp. While political candidates sidestep the real health-care issues, like puppets of the pharmaceutical industry that finances their election campaigns (take that, Hillary!), Moore brings a blunt clarity to the table. In an era when the mainstream news media have lost the public trust to Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report, Moore's brutally comic take on matters of life and death is just the ticket.

To prep for the film, Moore used the Internet to solicit health-care horror stories, not just from the 47 million Americans who don't have insurance but from those who do. It's hair-raising, especially when we watch an L.A. hospital dump a dazed patient at a homeless shelter because her insurance has reached its cap. In France, no resident is denied care; that's why the World Health Organization ranks it number one (the U.S. is thirty-seventh). Moore, who shot 500 hours of film that he had to whittle down to two, puts a human face on those statistics. He traces the privatized health system back to Nixon, who figured, "The less care they give them, the more money they make." He got that right.

Does Moore cut a few corners? Sure. Some of the European hospitals he visits might be spiffing up for the camera. The drugs an American patient buys in Havana (five cents there, $120 at home) might not be up to FDA standards. And maybe the French are pushing it by doing a patient's laundry. But the weight of evidence Moore marshals for taking the profit motive out of medicine is overwhelming. In a summer of dumb, shameless drivel, Moore delivers a movie of robust mind and heart. You'll laugh till it hurts.

From The Archives Issue 262: April 6, 1978
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