"Sicko" is a documentary that is both hilarious and terrifying in ways that only Michael Moore could pull off. The controversial filmmaker, whose persona by this point often overshadows his message in the public eye, always laces his documentaries with lots of darkly funny material, but he also knows better than anyone that nothing is scarier than the truth. And in "Sicko," the truth about America's failed health care system couldn't be any more frightening.
One of the first things we see in the film is a man stitching up his bloody knee himself because he can't afford to get any white coats to do it for him. And from there, the HMO horror stories -- which Moore found by posting a request on the Internet -- just pile up. We meet a 22-year-old woman who moved to Canada for its health care system after she was refused cancer treatment on the grounds that she was "too young to be getting cancer." A black cancer patient found a perfect match in his younger brother for a life-saving bone marrow transplant, but was refused help and eventually died for reasons most likely relating to race. A child was refused cochlear implants in both ears because it was considered "experimental," but as soon as her parents informed the health care company that her case would be included in Moore's movie, officials quickly changed their minds. Elderly parents bankrupted by health care costs have to move in with their daughter. A health care employee takes us through his job of scanning applications to find the tiniest detail to justify a rejection, thereby increasing profits. A dazed and drugged woman with several broken bones is dumped on the street in front of a homeless shelter because she can't pay for hospital care. This is America, people.
Meanwhile, countries like Canada, England, and France have health care systems that are generous, helpful, and most importantly, free. In England, a hospital cashier's sole purpose is giving money to patients to cover transportation costs to the hospital. In France, the government will actually send someone to a sick person's house to do tasks for them, including laundry. Now, it's obvious that none of these countries are the carefree utopias they're portrayed as, but Moore makes his point: If all of these countries can prosper under a universal health care system, why not America?
In the most talked about and most misunderstood part of the film, Moore loads up boats with 9/1 1 volunteer workers who encountered crippling illnesses from helping out at Ground Zero and then were refused health care because they were there as volunteers and not city-employed workers. First, Moore takes them to Guantanamo Bay, where the most sinister terrorists receive better treatment than most American citizens.
After arriving in Cuba, the 9/1 1 workers receive free treatment, discover that the medicine they pay $120 for at home costs the equivalent of a nickel in Cuba, and are honored as heroes by a group of Cuban firefighters, who embrace them as "family". OK, so the worst parts of Cuba aren't shown. But many have accused the film of glorifying Castro's country. "Sicko" does not glorify Cuba, but simply portrays a different side of it that raises many interesting questions. How is it that a country so impoverished and lacking in resources can provide better health care than the U.S.? How is it that a country we've demonized can embrace our citizens so kindly? How is it that the U.S. can be such a powerful, wealthy nation, but rank 37th on the World Health Organization's list of best health care systems?
These are important questions that only someone as brave as Moore could ask in such a fresh and witty way. Moore's critics always love to ask: "If he hates America so much, why doesn't he just move out?" Well, he doesn't hate our country. He only desperately wants change in the way our country operates.
Moore wants change, and if there's any work in his filmography that can surely promote it, it's "Sicko." Naysayers will love nitpicking at every little detail in the film; diehard fans will feel they have to accept it all at face value. But "Sicko" is a film that deserves to be viewed without bias, because it addresses a nationwide problem that transcends politics. Sure, some of Moore's methods are questionable, but what's unquestionable is how fearless, fierce and intelligent his plea for change is. He is not bashing America in "Sicko," but simply showing us how we need improvement in a problem all Americans face.
Jason Silverstein will be a junior at Williamsville North.
Review: 3 1/2 stars (out of four)