Lowdown: A call for a change of values.
Michael Moore’s documentaries are usually to do with presenting audacious ideas that seem ridiculous at first but, at least in my opinion, end up turning quite accurate, which leads me to believe he has a bit of a problem with his presentation. Take Fahrenheit 9/11 as an example: the guy was telling us the war in Iraq was all about oil at a time when you had to be a bonafide frog eating French in order to say anything bad about the war. Sicko follows the same line, only that now I can say that I generally agree with what Moore is saying from the start; the problem is still very much there with the way he makes his points.
Sicko tells the story of the American health system. The story is told through a collection of simple real life stories, and thus Moore takes us through the woes that befall those who don’t have health insurance and those that do have it but are still denied help. Then Moore tells us how the USA health system got to the point where it currently is (blame Nixon) and how it seems as if it’s impossible to change the rules of the game (just ask Hillary Clinton). He moves on to show the alternative – what he refers to as a “socialized health system”, a term that I find weird because I would put it as a “normal health system” while labelling the American one “a very stupid system” (and I think the word “system” is greatly misused here). In typical Moore fashion, he goes off to Canada, the UK and France to demonstrate how a health system should work. The conclusion is delving close to a comedy, and I refer you to the ‘worst scene’ paragraph below.
While I very much agree with what Moore is saying, I don’t like the way he’s saying it. As touching as the personal stories he is telling us about are, they are, well, personal; you can’t really tell whether those poor individuals whose stories are told truly represent the whole. And while the plight of the few is definitely not less worthy, I find it hard to believe that the American public wouldn’t rebel against the system if the majority was to receive the treatment Moore demonstrates in his film. OK, one of his points is that it is the weak that get the hard treatment and not the strong that can retaliate, but still – the quantification element that allows the measuring of the extent of the problem is missing. In a system serving 300 million people finding someone who is not happy with the service is inevitable; I think Sicko should have transcended that approach.
Another problem is that Moore is obviously leading us throughout the film down his path. Things look as if he’s investigating and researching as we go, but it’s clear that we’re following a very well laid out script.
Still, problems aside, let’s not forget the message in Sicko. I could easily regard Sicko as a comedy on how the American public gets screwed and have myself a good night’s sleep afterwards; but that would be a mistake on two accounts (and I'll politely ignore the fact that some nice Americans don't deserve this; yes, even some that voted for Bush). First, the health system in Australia has been going through an ongoing Americanization; if certain people have their way, we will be there in the not too distant future. After all, we already have a two tiered health system (private/public), with the main difference between us and the USA being that the public system is still tolerable on most accounts, with dental care being the most obvious exclusion. But the public health system is very much going down, and it would take ordinary people like us to set things right – which is exactly why a film like Sicko that shows the viewer both the good (France) and the bad (USA) is essential viewing.
The second vital thing about Sicko is that it’s not just a film about the health system. At its heart, it is a film that tries to alert people to the fact that they shouldn’t think about the “me” as much as they do, and that they should start thinking about the “we” instead. With elections coming up in just a couple of months, I hope as many Australians as possible will get to watch Sicko.
Worst scene: Moore grabs several ill 9/11 rescue workers with him and takes a boat to Guantanamo Bay, where the imprisoned terrorists receive better (free) health care than the rescue workers do (they are denied help by the system). The scene where Moore takes a megaphone and shouts across a mine field towards a remote guard tower is ludicrous.
Best scene: Moore asks a government employed doctor in the UK about how he copes as a doctor on the meager salary provided by the government. Turns out the doctor is coping very well indeed.
Overall: Rating Sicko is all to do with the way you feel about the balance between the importance of the message, the quality of the arguments, and the cinematic value of this documentary. I would rate it as 3 stars out of 5 just because I do think the message is truly important, even if the delivery mechanism is lacking.