Saturday, June 30, 2007

Oh, Sicko

I went to see "Sicko" fully expecting to love it. I'm a Michael Moore fan (though more of "Bowling for Columbine" than "Fahrenheit 9/11"; I find the issues of gun control and violence more interesting than politics and war) and I liked what I'd heard about it being less Michael-in-your-face and more letting the issue speak for itself.

But. I actually hated the first fifteen or twenty minutes of the movie. [POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT.] It started with several sensational stories about people whose lives were destroyed by problems with their health insurance, problems which he seemed to imply were rampant. Do I live in a bubble? Because the idea that there are hundreds of "pre-existing conditions" that can prohibit your inability to get approved for insurance has never been a factor in my life, or of anyone's I know. He even let the list scroll on screen and yes, several common ailments floated by: asthma, for one. I have family members with asthma. They all have health insurance. I've never heard of anyone being turned down for having asthma. So what am I supposed to take from this overblown premise? Is it simply that these insurance applicants are not covered through their employers, and that obtaining insurance plays by different rules when you get it on your own? Or does it differ state by state? I don't know. All I know is I thought, wow, this is exactly what everyone always says is wrong with Michael Moore: he's painting the very blackest picture by exploiting a few random examples that do not represent the vast majority.

And, yet, does it matter? If it's only 1000 people who are denied health care, isn't that wrong enough? Isn't it wrong if it's only 100? Or six? Or two?

But then, he dropped that bone and moved on, and although I now was poised to contradict every point he made going forward, I found the rest of the film much more palatable. Moving, even. Visits to Canada, the UK, France, and Cuba to explore various national health care programs seemed balanced (or at least he made an effort to seek out detractors.) The basic logic of his premise is not compromised by his playful manipulation of film: our government provides us with schools, post offices, police stations, and fire houses, why not hospitals?

In the local art house cinema I saw this in, on a beautiful sunny late June afternoon, the educated liberal crowd broke into applause several times. Several times, though, the air in the theater was still and tense. The first mentions of 9/11 were like that; suddenly this movie, previously dwelling on the health concerns of pasty Midwesterners with bad nutrition, was hitting close to home. I honestly don't know when I last felt an entire theater grow silent together so heavily. Oh, yes, I do: that moment in "Fahrenheit 9/11" when Louis Armstrong pauses in singing "What a Wonderful World" and in the breath of his silence a plane hits a tower and there is a gasp of horror from the tourist holding the camera capturing it.

I don't believe it's possible for the U.S. to convert to a socialized health care program. It's not just the insurance companies; the entire medical care industry is too entrenched an institution. It seems like it would take a mammoth effort to shift it. Moore expresses amazement that the UK started their NHS just after WWII ended, but doesn't that actually make the most sense? When you're forced to rebuild, you have more opportunity to build it correctly from the bottom up. Like renovating an apartment before you move in. Much simpler than trying to do so when your life is already there, in place.

So, yes, "Sicko" is a movie I implore people to see, even if it's to shake the idea from my head that this all makes sense. I would relish a national debate on the issue, with intelligent discourse and practical thought. To all those people who oppose the film on principle, but refuse to even see it: don't even talk to me. If you don't want to put $$ in Michael Moore's pocket, send me your ticket stub and I'll send you a $20. (Popcorn's on me, too.)


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