Michael Moore's Sicko, A Review

Posted by: Richenda at Friday July 4, 2008 in

I saw Sicko opening weekend with an enthusiastic crowd who made all the quiet appreciative noises of a choir listening to a skilled preacherman at work. One or two outbursts include a round of applause when one of the British men Moore interviewed declared that if a government had enough money to make war and guns and kill people, it certainly had enough money to heal its sick and care for its citizens.

It’s a good film, no doubt. Moore has responded to the critics who accused him of rabid, get-it-though-your-head-or-die tactics and now he’s playing softball. He’s returned to the roots of documentary filmmaking. For he most part, he lets the story tell the story. And that little bit of tape from the Nixon Whitehouse is very telling.

I had one major concerns after watching this film. I worried that Moore had not addressed the most ingrained anti-universal health care argument head on. Specifically the attitude that some have that health care isn’t a right or an entitlement. Americans despise entitlements—especially other peoples’. (We are a bit indulgent about our own, however. That SUV, for instance, and that second yacht.)

Moore’s interviews in France won’t help this. There is an entitlement to health care in France. That works for them. But I think it scares the heck out of some people here who only see the French enthusiasm for social democracy as potentially creating a nation of lay-a-bouts who will break the back of the working man. And let’s face it, it’s infuriating to be the one to have to work while another does nothing. Take housework, for instance. Ask women how they feel about their husband’s laz-y-boy when there are household chores to be done.

But those who see only the French sense of entitlement will miss the French passion for care. “Rest,” the doctors say, “rest,” thereby highlighting how little rest sick Americans get. When Moore takes the 911 rescue workers to Cuba, and the Cuban doctors care for them, you can see the overwhelming relief in their eyes. Why does Cuba care and America not? Studies confirm that the stress burdens we carry contribute to the morbidity of our illnesses. My sister died from cancer at 39. She left two little children and a husband behind. Until she could no longer rise from her bed, she couldn’t rest. There was too much paperwork to do.

This is what we have to change. Social democracy isn’t about creating a nation of lay-a-bouts. It is about creating a country enthusiastic with itself and its citizens, a country ready to work, and ready to give back to a system ‘we the people’ value and adore. If the Musketeering French feel entitled, they feel it like this: all for one and one for all.

We don’t need socialism. We can make capitalism user-friendly. I know we can. We’re America!

The other aspect of entitlement I would have liked to see the film address is the idea of ‘value for money.’ Here’s an American entitlement for you: Americans feel entitled to getting their money’s worth. That’s a good thing when you’re a dairy farmer in the mid-west or have a family of four to raise in Detroit. Value for money drives our business leaders (or used to) and comes from our sense of fair play. But it has negatives, too. We want it all, and we want it now—and don’t burden us with the messy stuff. We don’t want to know about the cow when we pick up our shrink-wrapped steak from Aisle 10. And as for prices, we like those so low we have to send our manufacturing off-shore where slave-labor laws are a little lax.

But value for money is a good thing. And we are not getting our money’s worth when it comes to health care. We are not, not, not. Money siphons up from everyone’s pockets and billions of dollars get spent, including paying the army of lobbyists Moore claims are four-to-one against our members of Congress. (Do health care lobbyists get health care, I wonder?) Meanwhile our sick get treated in urgent and emergency care, the costliest way to treat them. Preventative care is a joke, no one has the money or the time between jobs to seek it. If we invested the money that already circulates in the health care industry, we’d be good to go with universal care.

Better care. Better Value. Better America. —Same money.

How did we get so selfish? The founding fathers were plenty in love with their own power and lands, but to be fair they also knew the thumb of persecution and wanted to alleviate the choke-hold of tyranny with freedom and personal liberty. So with all this talk of happiness and freedom, how did we become so stressed that when our own parents are in desperate straits, we only complain about having to help them move? How many hours do we work to ‘try to make it’ in America—are there so few left over that we cannot help our families and our neighbors? Why is it so painful to have anyone ask us for our time or care? Why can we not remove the curio cabinet and the huge computer desk from the ‘extra’ room that is the only place our parents have left to live?

I guess in America, you just better not get sick.

My sister’s husband almost lost his life in a car crash on his way to work. He had moved north in search of work and when he found it, saved money enough to move his family up to join him. The days before the crash, his wife and two small children had packed up and left their apartment excited to be reunited. They had money for first and last and that deposit. …but the accident ended his job, and, caught in the process of the move, the family was suddenly homeless and without income. Upright people suddenly desperate.

In France, the government would have made sure he got paid so his family could eat and live in a safe place. In Canada or England the family would have been saved destitution, as well. In America I moved the curio cabinet and the computer desk and they all lived with us until they got on their feet. In America their only recourse was to sue the wrecking company at fault and cited as negligent in the crash. They won, but there was no insurance money. The wrecking company insurer was based in the Bahamas. Faced with a three figure lawsuit, that company simply closed, re-opening again under a new name and so leaving its creditors behind.

You want to tort reform in this country? Reform our health care system.

In America, you better pull yourself up by your bootstraps by yourself. It’s your bootstraps, or nothing.

The issue of universal health care is a loaded one. Each of us is in the throes of our conflicting personal fears and/or experiences. Yet still, Moore manages to come up with a—if you can believe it— feel-good film that does what it does quietly. First, by asking the ‘why’ question. Then by showing us what is possible.

Why, it asks, do we allow our hospitals to dump our elderly in the streets, leaving them to wander barefoot and disoriented until someone else lends a hand?

Contrast that with the happy footage of a new baby in England, and a busy French doctor going door to door to treat the sick: A single man at home; A worried mother with a young son. ‘If you can call a plumber and have one at your house within an hour, why can’t you call a doctor, the French explain. Why indeed? So…does that mean that in America we care more about our toilets than our children or our elderly?

The other thing the film does quietly is call its people to action. My teen children saw the film with us. My younger son, almost 16, left the film with optimism. He felt a call in the air. Something must be done. Something that matters was afoot. He felt an invigorating, nudging, force. Lead and he will follow. I will follow, too.

The American bootstrap culture is good in many, many ways. It fuels our great innovation, our tremendous energy as a country, and demands that everyone comes along. We are barn-raisers. And we rock at that. It’s July 4th! Let’s raise this barn.

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