By Sonya Rehman
The big man’s fourth documentary, ‘Sicko’, has got to be the slickest of all – amped with humour that cocoons a hard-hitting truth; that the world’s ‘superpower’ – America the glorious land of the ‘free’ – has one appallingly substandard healthcare system. In his productions – just as with ‘Bowling for Columbine’ and ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ – Moore has this great way of piecing together his subject matter – by mincing his voice-overs into digestible little morsels of facts and then sautéing the entire reel with personalized commentary and wit. And ‘Sicko’ really is no different – perhaps all the more gutsier.
As ‘Sicko’ begins, old boy Dubya (Bush) is shown giving one of his asinine speeches (as usual): “We got an issue in America”, he states in heavy twang, “too many good doctors are gettin’ outta business…too many OB/Gyn’s [a medical healthcare practitioner who combines Obstetrics and Gynecology] aren’t able to practice their love with women all across this country”. One wonders what the actual stance of Bush’s speech had been – was Dubious Dubya getting at something else? But the fact that Moore threw in a few seconds of the Bush bit in just as the documentary was to unravel…seems to set the pace for what is to follow: that the American healthcare system is as flawed…as Michael Jackson’s nose.
So this is how it goes: Leftist Moore introduces a bunch of American citizens (with health insurance) and their hair-raising healthcare accounts to us viewers. We’re introduced to a tubby, smiley fellow (with a salt-and-pepper coloured pony tail) called ‘Rick’ for instance – who narrates an accident that involved a saw that met with the tips of two fingers: his. Now since Rick didn’t have health coverage, the hospital gave him two pretty simple choices: to have his middle finger stitched back on for a confounding 60,000 dollars or, have his ring finger patched up for a ‘mere’ 12,000.
Ho hum now, which one? Inny Minnie, Miny, Moe… “Being the hopeless romantic, Rick chose the ring finger for the bargain price of 12 grand”, Moore’s caustic VO (voice over) runs, “the top of his middle finger now enjoys its new home in an Oregon mine fill.” ‘Sicko’ explores it all. The short interviews with four women battling malignant forms of cancer – set the motion for the documentary’s graver undertones. Interestingly each woman stands beneath a particular health insurance company’s protective wing – but all have a similar tale to tell; that they’d been blatantly rejected (by the company) for medical treatment, even, necessary drug prescriptions. And a few years after having been interviewed by Moore, two of the women perish at the hands of their disease.
Additional interviews follow, along with Moore who takes his viewers to Britain, France, Cuba and Canada – all the while comparing their rather compassionate healthcare systems with that of America’s…which quite frankly is depicted as a money hungry vulture – pecking away at the sick. But throughout, Moore never lets his humorous grasp in ‘Sicko’ get loose and plummet into somberville – sure you’ll probably find your eyes welling up ever so often, but then again you’re bound to buckle over and laugh frequently too. Like for instance this particular scene where Moore hitches a ride in France with Philippe Leminez, a house-call doctor. With sugary French music playing in the background, Moore and Leminez shuffle up stairs and into the homes of people who need a doctor’s quick fix. Moore’s angle is understood even more clearly at this point; if the French can have free around the clock, 24/7 medical care – why can’t the world’s superpower?
But perhaps the most interesting interview that Moore conducts is with Tony Benn – a former member of the British Parliament who speaks of democracy and how it managed to seep its way into the United Kingdom after World War II. “Before we had the vote, all the powers were in the hands of the rich”, Benn explains, “People said we had mass unemployment in the 1930s but we don’t have any employment during the war and if we can have full employment by killing Germans, why can’t we have full employment by building hospitals and schools? If you can find money to kill people, you can find money to help people”. “There are two ways to control people”, Benn goes on to say, “first of all frighten them and secondly, demoralize them. An educated, healthy and confident nation is a threat to the world”, Benn states and then laughs. “The top one percent of the world’s population have eighty percent of the world’s wealth…it’s incredible that people put up with it, but they’re demoralized and frightened and therefore perhaps the safest thing to do is to take orders and hope for the best”. In an interview concerning the director’s latest film, Moore stated: “I don’t have to convince the American public that there is something wrong with our health care system. I think most American people already feel that way, that’s why I don’t spend a lot of time in the film on the healthcare horror stories. I wanted to propose that there’s a different way we can go with this. I’m hoping that the American people, when they see this film, will say, ‘you know, there is a better way, and maybe we should look at what they are doing in some of these other countries’…”
What makes ‘Sicko’ memorable is one part where Moore decides to take eleven extremely ill 9/11 rescue volunteers to Cuba for medical assistance and check-ups. Even though I won’t spoil this part by giving away its details, Cuba’s healthcare system, if truth be told, really is depicted as a model for third world countries around the world. For the lay man, ‘Sicko’ truly puts things into perspective. A perspective that spins you around in a neat 360…a perspective that makes you realize that the first world’s usually glossy veneer – once chipped away – reveals a system that is as flawed, as tinny, as corrupted and as gluttonous as any other.
The big guy deserves a bow.
Or a hug for that matter.
Instep, The News