Count your blessings
Hey, wanna watch a documentary about the NHS? Don’t worry, its not just the NHS, it’s the medical system in several other countries too! Excited? Probably not. It would take a special person to willingly choose watching that sort of film over, say, washing their hair. Or watching paint dry. Or gnawing their own arm off. But it would take a far more special individual to willingly make such a film and make it laugh-out-loud funny, poignant and, gosh darn it all, inspirational. Michael Moore is that special guy, and Sicko is that film.
It’s been a while since we’ve heard from tubby, bespectacled American, Michael Moore, and without realising it, we have missed him. His last film failed us. Fahrenheit 911, his polemic against George W. Bush’s War on Terror America, was funny, populist, entertaining and brought in the crowds. And while many of the points it made were valid, some were not, and overall, the film’s angry, bitter tone obscured its message. When even dyed-in-the-wool lefties like myself leave a movie shaking their heads and saying that it was a bit unfair on old Dubya, it’s safe to say you’ve probably taken it too far. Which is why Sicko is such a pleasant surprise.
Full of the anti-Moore backlash that followed Fahrenheit, I went into Sicko fully prepared not to like it, bracing myself for the smug, biased polemic that Mr Moore’s critics and enemies (and he has more than the average filmmaker) promised it would be. Instead, I found a film full of genuine warmth, unforced, natural humour and a passion for telling ordinary, unsensational truth.
Sicko examines the American healthcare system, where, if you do not have medical insurance, you do not get treated. Moore avoids the cheap and obvious path of telling the stories of those too poor to afford insurance and instead focuses on those who do, examining how that system works when something serious goes wrong. What he discovers is truly disturbing.
From cancer patients, to victims of industrial accidents, from children going steadily deaf to older people with mounting lists of ailments, all have horror-stories to tell of how they have been denied treatment or been bankrupted to pay for it. Former health-sector employees talk about how they were given bonuses for denying patients care and heroes of September 11 share how the ailments they developed during rescue operations at the Twin Towers have been disowned by government officials. Moore intersperses these stories with his trademark cheek and flair for the grand gesture that he demonstrated so ably in the superb Bowling for Columbine.
Most of Sicko is dedicated to Moore’s quest to discover if socialised medicine in other countries (France, Canada, Cuba and, of course, here) is as bad as Republicans in the US have for generations been making it out to be.
What he finds is where Sicko really shines. His growing disbelief and confusion (charmingly hammed up for the cameras, amiably playing to the ‘American buffoon’ stereotypes) as he discovers just how good we have it in this country (as well as a surprise cameo from a familiar MP) is worth every penny you pay for the ticket. One cannot help but share his amazement at the benefits offered to mothers in France, be impressed at the high quality of care in Cuba and glow with pride at the quality and sheer justness of our own NHS.
To call Sicko a return to his pre-Fahrenheit form would be inaccurate, because Michael Moore has never been this good. This is an understated, yet enormously entertaining and thought-provoking documentary that should not just make us grateful to live in a country where the State promises to care for us when we are sick, but to defend that institution, with all its faults, at any cost. This is a film not so much about the difference between countries as the difference between just and unjust systems, and anyone who cares about justice will not just value it, but enjoy it.