Thursday, June 21, 2007

Sicko (12A)

Written and Directed by Michael Moore
Release details to be confirmed

A man sits in his living room. He has a deep gash in his knee, and a needle and thread in his hands. A cat watches as the man inexpertly sews up his own wound, seemingly without any anaesthetic. Which godforsaken hellhole is this first scene of Michael Moore's new documentary set in? Why, it's the good old U S of A, the world's richest nation.

That puts me in mind of a Simpsons episode, where Bill Gates explains to Homer that he didn't get to be so rich by writing a lot of cheques.

Fifty million people in the United States can't get professional healthcare, since they do not have health insurance, either because they can't afford it, or because they have a pre-existing health condition. As for the other 250 million, they have to struggle for every cent when it comes to paying for treatment. The 'health companies' pay bonuses to doctors with the highest rates of turning claimants down, so we see an interview with one woman who'd just been refused money on the grounds that her condition was 'not life-threatening'. She died from that condition before filming was completed. As a repentant former 'hitman' for one of these corporations told Moore:
"It's not unintentional, it's not a mistake, it's not an oversight. You're not slipping through the cracks. Somebody made that crack and swept you towards it, and the intent is to maximise profit."
So the film sets off around the world, in search of better systems. Moore's travels take him to Canada (where US citizens illegally sneak over the border in search of cheap drugs), France, and Britain. Cue one of his favourite tricks, playing naive. No, that couple won't have to pay before they take their newborn baby home. Yep, that prescription really is free to everyone on a pension or out of work. No, that doctor doesn't have to take the bus. It gets old very quickly, but I suppose many Americans will be genuinely shocked.

Then it's time for the biggest stunt of all, the kind of thing that Michael Moore is an expert at creating. He collects a group of 9/11 volunteers and firefighters, who can't afford the medication and treatment they desperately need, and takes them aboard a boat bound for Guantánamo Bay, where 'enemy combatants' are - at least in theory - able to get free healthcare. To Moore's supposed surprise, they are unable to gain access to the facility. But since they're already on the island of Cuba, and Castro's regime grants its people free healthcare as well - again, at least in theory - why not check out Fidel's pharmacies and hospitals? There follow some deeply moving scenes, as the workers hailed as heroes by Bush (but swept under the carpet once he'd had his photo ops) realise they are going to get free treatment from a state they'd always been taught was among the world's most evil.

I get the feeling that liberal America's favourite filmmaker and author has undergone a slight radicalisation since 2004's Fahrenheit 9/11. There's no analysis here, but neither are there any illusions that the Democrats are going to change anything. He even lays into Hillary Clinton, who he wrote a chapter-long love-letter to in 'Downsize This!'. The problem is outlined, with disgust, compassion, and occasional humour. The closest he gets to offering a solution is silently looking at Karl Marx's grave in London's Highgate Cemetery, which bears the slogan 'workers of all lands unite'.

Until that happens, healthcare will continue to get worse around the world. It may be a lot better in this country than in the US, but the profit motive eats a bit further into the system each day. Could any party carry out radical surgery, even if they wanted to? No, because the UK is in a race to the bottom against every other country.

The NHS was created because the British working class of the 1940s - our parents and grandparents - demanded a better standard of living after World War Two. Back then, governments could grant a few crumbs from their table, because economies were largely organised at the level of the nation state. But now international capital rules the whole globe, so the working class response must also be global.

Anyway, pretty good film.
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