Years ago, Michael Moore set out to produce a documentary about the American health care system and how that affects both those with and without insurance. In 1999 though, the Columbine shootings redirected his focus towards gun control and teenage violence. The health care project was put on hold and “Bowling for Columbine” was made and went on to win the Academy Award for Best Documentary. Hollywood had found a new spokesman and Moore rode that wave for as long as he could. He was about to return to the health care project when the war in Iraq began. Again, Moore felt his efforts would be better put to use elsewhere. “Fahrenheit 9/11”, part expository documentary, part slander campaign to ensure George W. Bush would not be re-elected, became the highest grossing documentary of all time. He may have had notoriety like he had never known but he also had an increasing number of angry detractors. Moore’s success was inflating his ego and that ego was taking up more screen time than the subject matter itself in his films. Well, Mr. Moore has heard your complaints and has redirected his focus once again by removing it from himself and placing it back on the subject. Eight years after its original conception, Moore is finally ready to give us “Sicko”.
While Moore’s mug does still find its way into the action and his voice guides us along our tour of the world’s hospital waiting rooms, he is less invasive and more sympathetic in “Sicko”. In fact, we don’t even see him for the first third of the piece. Instead, real people with real horror stories of disappointment and struggle put a face to the bureaucracy. Having no insurance, Rick must make a decision between reattaching his middle finger ($60,000) or his ring finger ($12,000) after the tips are sliced off in a buzz saw accident as he cannot afford both. In her 50’s, Donna is forced to move in to her daughter’s storage room with her husband because their medical bills have far exceeded what their insurance will cover. The American people already know that their health care system does not work for everyone so “Sicko” ensures that people know the desperate realities of those that are left behind. Moore makes sure to get all his pills in a line by giving historical context to the deterioration of provided health care and establishes profit as the unsurprising devil. There have been so many stories of death and unnecessary suffering by this point in the film that the tears come naturally when you see the livelihood of real people being cast aside for profit expansion.
Yet through the tears, there is laughter to be had in “Sicko” and most of it is directed at Moore himself, as an American representative. Moore leaves the USA to explore whether socialized health care is as poor and pathetic as the American media and American Medical Association would have you believe. In Canada, he meets a hockey player who sliced several fingers off while playing and didn’t have to choose between having any one in particular reattached nor did he have to pay a cent for the operation. In England, he meets with a doctor who still earns a strong six-figure salary that affords him an Audi and a million-dollar home despite the government signing his checks. In France, he meets with a group of Americans who have relocated to France and are now enjoying social health benefits like 24-hour medical service that comes to your door. Moore seems as if in a constant state of shock and awe as he asks patients leaving hospitals what their bills cost. The response is always nothing but not before they have a good laugh at how ridiculous his question is.
When the initial urge to laugh has run its route, “Sicko” reminds us that we are laughing at how dire this situation has become. How else can one describe it when homeless patients, clearly without insurance, are dumped in front of shelters after being forced out of a hospital and forced into a cab? Moore still can’t resist a cheeky, sarcastic turn but his filmmaking is maturing. While past efforts struggled to maintain their objectivity, feeling at times like one man’s personal vendetta against the powers that be, “Sicko” is more like a rallying of the people, exposing many Americans’ selfish motivations to look out for themselves above all else as their ugliest problem. Instead of yelling incessantly at the Bush administration and the corporations that pull the strings, all Moore seems to be concerned with is how the American population is still allowing for a world where the weakest among them is left to die in the streets.
Review by Joseph Bélanger