First, let's get through the superlatives. SiCKO is one of the most important films you'll ever see in your lifetime, which might be rather short depending upon your HMO. It's additionally one of the most entertaining, illuminating, contumelious, and brave documentaries unspooled on American screens to this date.
Yes, the director is Michael Moore, the Steven Spielberg of reality cinema. But whether or not you adored his Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004), his valentine to Bush's ineptness; or Bowling for Columbine, in which he used Charlton Heston for target practice; or Roger & Me (1989), a letter bomb to uncaring corporate America, you'll adore these 123 minutes that he has now wrought.
Why? SiCKO is about health, the great leveler. Even right-wing, homophobic, praying-for-the-Apocalypse, Southern-belle demagogues don't like being ill. Whether it's gastritis, lumbago, carpal tunnel syndrome, or fibrosarcoma, disease can make the red states and the blue states purple.
If you don't believe that, surf on over to FoxNews.com, which has surprisingly come out in favor of Moore in at least one article, " 'Sicko' Socko at the Box Office." The outlet's Roger Friedman notes on the doc's opening days, "Moore's funny and quite sad look at how Americans might benefit from universal health care sold out its entire run. The total box office at the [Big Apple] theater was over $70,000 â€” possibly a record for an exclusive showing." Besides attracting liberal Manhattanites, SiCKO was also selling out across the nation in select cities.
Well, the film starts with a scene reminiscent of Saw: an uninsured, high-spirited gent is sewing together his own leg wound because he has no health insurance. But even if 18,000 Americans die annually from lack of insurance, Moore announced he was concentrating instead on the insured who are also dying or just eking out a slight breath or two.
For example, there's the 79-year-old who still has to work at Pathmark so he can have insurance to pay for his own and his wife's medicines. Forget retirement and the golden years. There are the women who are denied insurance because they are either too fat or too thin. One young gal discovers her bills will not be paid because she had not disclosed she once had a yeast infection.
Then there are the babies and husbands dying because their health insurance companies denied okaying their "experimental" treatments or because they were brought to the "wrong" hospital. It's even disclosed that doctors are paid bonuses if their treatment denial rate is the highest.
If that wasn't enough to chew on, learn more reasons to hate Nixon and Reagan, plus all our politicos in both parties who are accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars from lobbyists out to undermine the wellness of our loved ones.
And so on and so forth.
But are there alternatives to the American system?
Yessiree! Moore intensely exposes us to the medical "paradises" in Canada, England, France, and Cuba. Of course, there might be a little hyperbole here, but still, can you argue with free medical treatments, cheap or free medicine, and help with your laundry after you give birth? Certainly no one in these countries is losing his home to pay off his cancer bills.
All in all, Sicko is a wake-up call for Americans. Sadly, we didn't respond much after initially applauding his previous efforts. Guns are still shooting, and George W. is still our leader. But maybe this time . . . Why not? Even Moore used to have slight hope, as he wrote in his bestseller Stupid White Men:
"I used to console myself about the state of stupidity in this country by repeating to myself: Even if there are two hundred million stone-cold idiots in this country, that leaves eighty million who'll get what I'm sayingâ€”and that's still more than the populations of the United Kingdom and Iceland combined."
But then, he admits, he learned better. â€“ Brandon Judell
Mr. Judell, who's currently teaching "Contemporary Israeli/Palestinian Cinema" at City College, has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire, Detour, and dozens of other publications.