“We’re Americans. We go into other countries when we need to. It’s tricky, but it works.” So declares Michael Moore in the midst of his new documentary, Sicko. Moore may be riffing on the war in Iraq, to name only our most recent intervention, but he’s actually referring to U.S. citizens crossing the border into Canada for cheap meds and free health care.
Sicko shows America’s pre-eminent cinemuckraker in a seriously polemical mode. But his movie isn’t about the 50 million Americans without health insurance. It’s about the 250 million Americans who do have coverage, such as the 79-year-old man working in a supermarket to maintain his prescription-drug benefits and the woman who lost her benefits because she didn’t report an ancient yeast infection as a pre-existing condition.
After demonstrating the state of health care here, Moore visits industrial societies that enjoy universal coverage — Canada, Great Britain (where even an American nincompoop who threw out his back trying to cross Abbey Road on his hands gets free hospitalization) and, above all, France.
As filmmaking, Sicko sometimes resembles an infomercial for Ozarks real estate and elsewhere demonstrates a Kenneth Anger-like flare for vertical montage — as when Moore mischievously uses a harvest hymn from the Stalinist musical Cossacks of the Kuban to sovietize our own marching firefighters, heroic teachers and indomitable mail carriers. In any case, it’s as a rhetorician that Moore is most original and effectively demagogic.
Sicko has the clearest agenda of any Moore film, albeit one that dares not speak its name. Is there a more vivid image of human garbage than the spectacle of a Los Angeles hospital dumping indigent patients on skid row? What manner of system is this?
If the American health-insurance industry is Moore’s unspoken metaphor for Capital (feeding, vampirelike, on human labor), Cuba is his unconvincing socialist paradise. Dr. Moore reveals all manner of symptoms, but is it impossible for him to diagnose the disaster we live without offering another sort of drug?