Last night I watched the new Michael Moore documentary SICKO about the flaws of the United States healthcare system. You may be wondering to yourself about how I could “watch a film with a release date of June 29th already?” Did we swipe it off of the internet? I suppose the simple answer would be, “YES! We fucking stole it!” Or, at least, I watched a version that was pirated by “someone”. We here at MonsterFresh.com, however, suspect that there is possibly much more to this question, which is a topic I will address much later in this article.
I met Michael Moore a few years back when he came to speak at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wa. He was late to arrive at the engagement, due to cramming in an extra appearance in Seattle, thus the crowd was occupied with episodes from his old television show The Awful Truth. Some of the content on one of the clips reminded me of when I worked for a company who unfairly altered pay checks for their South American immigrants. The diligent and loyal workers could not afford to protest because they were supporting families in two countries. I could afford to, so I called the IRS and got the company audited. After the film-maker’s speech, I waited and moved up through the line to meet him. While he signed my Book of Mormon and 100 deadliest karate moves book, I talked to him about what I connected with in that clip and referred to my own similar experience. He grabbed a cookie of his fruit plate and gave it to me. Then he asked the guy next to me if he was with me and, when he nodded, he gave him one. It felt a bit patronizing and as if he may have been trying to shut me up.
My feelings of Michael Moore have been marginal, at best, since then. However, I am aware that I can become stand-offish in my own right. One example is when the creators of Mr. Show came to the Olympia film fest and comically narrated over Steven Segal’s “On Deadly Ground” in Mystery Science Theater style. I felt like they weren’t acknowledging my presence enough when I spoke with them. Later, as David Cross scurried somewhat nervously from the Capitol Theater through the dark unfamiliar streets of a strange town at 1am, I shouted out to him in a drunken hobo’s voice, “I’m gonna rape you ‘cuz you’re famous”. I then turned back over my left shoulder towards Bob Odenkirk and asked him to “Shoot me up in my cock.” He thanked me for coming out and I realized that these guys were tired as fuck. They had been exhausting themselves all day. I think that may have been the same case with Moore.
The scariest film I’ve ever seen was Citizen Kane. After seeing that I had to question something inside myself about at which point your intentions to do great kindnesses can become more about the power of the ego behind them and the fact that you yourself are the one making the difference. It’s a frighteningly intangible concept and I believe that the deed and the concept of what it represents, for the doer, may very well need to feed off of each other. People accuse Moore of making these films and taking on a role of self-consumed megalomaniac. Maybe, maybe not, but that does not change the fact that this is an important film that I believe everybody should see. Before you read on, keep in mind that the viewpoints of the individual writing this does not believe that Al Gore created the concept of Global Warming, but that he never felt the need to watch a depressing film about it either.
In an invitation letter to his film festival, dated Friday, July 7th, 2006, Moore stated that, when people ask what his new film is about, he tells them that it’s “a comedy about 45 million people with no health care in the richest country on earth.” I was more pleased to read the other reference to SICKO in the letter that said “I don’t think the country needs a movie that tells you that HMOs and the pharmaceutical companies suck. Everybody knows that”. I was pleased because that’s exactly how it feels throughout the first section of the film, like you’re watching something that, although it is really shitty, you already know about it. It starts out with the, now classic, clip of George W. Bush talking about OBGYNs sharing their “love with women” and then to a man stitching up his own knee. More and more short clips of those who don’t have health coverage are shown. A man named Rick has to choose to keep only one of two fingers that were accidentally chopped off. The middle will cost him $60,000 and the ring only $12,000. He chooses the ring finger; he’s married. Larry and Donna Smith, a once well off couple, are forced to move into their daughter’s storage room with her family in Denver after going bankrupt from medical bills. Incidentally, the whole family is decked out in Broncos jerseys. Then there’s a barrage of facts like 50 million without healthcare in the U.S., 18,000 die a year, people are denied medical insurance for being “too thin”, people are denied for being “too fat”, etc. Yes, they are miserable statistics, but really they aren’t too shocking or surprising.
Just as Moore’s, borderline patronizing tone begins to wear thin, the film focuses on the businesses behind these denials for treatment and their history. You learn about how medical corporations view any claim paid as a “medical loss” and that employees are trained to find any technicalities to refusal simply for the incentives of large bonus and/or promotion. There are whole units created to find technicalities so as to retrieve sums which have already been paid out to individuals. This was the case with Tasha Harris who was asked to return the money given to her for her medical expenses once her provider discovered that she had once suffered from the irritation of a yeast infection. No shit! It’s true. An audio tape is played from a meeting with Nixon and an advisor back on Feb 17, 1971 where they discuss privatized healthcare and Edgar Kaiser, of Kaiser Permanente, and his detailed plans for them all to turn a large profit off of sick individuals and the medical industry. The very next day Nixon gave a speech to “the people” explaining why it would benefit the masses. It’s a bit agitating to know that you’re getting fucked. I understand that. My back is jacked up right now and I have no insurance. You’re introduced to an AMA produced vinyl record with Ronald Reagan from his acting days, attacking the socialization of healthcare and, in many ways, making it into its own Red Scare. Moore follows the history all the way up to the early 90s where Hilary Clinton valiantly fights in the face of opposition for reform. Then, just when she’s so wonderfully placed up on a pedestal, she’s knocked back down by the fact that she eventually because the 2nd largest recipients of funds from healthcare lobbyists. Yeah, it sucks to know you’re getting fucked, but I already know that. It isn’t shocking. Not in the slightest.Once the viewer settles into the idea that they are watching a film about how horribly mismanaged our healthcare system is, complete with step by step examples, it takes a shift. Moore follows a 22yr old single-mother from Michigan to Canada so that she can attempt to get treatment for her cancer. One by one, positive examples are shown by other healthcare systems around the world. Remember the man who lost his fingers in the states? His Canadian counterpart had all of his fingers sewn back and it didn’t cost him shit. Some dumbass Beatles fan from Olympia, Wa. visited the UK with the brilliant plan to walk across Abbey Road on his hands. He fucked up his shoulder and the footage looked like it came from an episode of MTV’s Scarred. Although he deserved his injury, his hospitalization, complete with painkillers, cost him a total of approx. $10 American and he wasn’t even a fucking citizen.
Statistics like the U.S. being ranked 37th in the world just above Slovenia, Canadians living an average of 3 yrs longer than we do, and that babies in El Salvador have a better chance of survival than an American one, start to resonate within and actually mean something. The poorest Brits live longer than the wealthiest Americans and the only cashier in an NHS hospital is actually only there to reimburse you for the cash you spent on travelling to the god damn hospital. There is a scene in the film “As Good As It Gets” where Jack Nicholson tells Helen Hunt and Greg Kinnear that the real reason that they are so pissed off about their lives isn’t because they have had it so bad but, rather, because so many other people have had it so well. Those are the types of feelings that I began to have watching the second half of SICKO. It makes one wonder why the fucked up negative situations aren’t shocking anymore? By the time I found out that Guantanamo Bay had better healthcare than we do ,I was pissed off, yet fascinated. This intention to split the film into two contrasting sections was a great, although simple, angle to work. Halfway into the documentary it actually becomes more engaging and really pulls the film together as a whole.
Moore actually goes to Cuba and brings volunteers from 9/11’s ground zero which can’t get healthcare in the U.S. Of course they receive wonderful treatment there and a 5cent charge for medications that cost $120 here, but, possibly even more shocking, they actually receive a great deal more respect. That’s right…they went to CUBA. This is the main controversy with this film. Apparently, Moore stashed a copy of the film in Canadian territory for fear that the U.S. government may confiscate and impound it over the fact that this was reported to have been an “unauthorized” trip. Believe it or not, these aren’t the only controversies over this new documentary.
We at MonsterFresh.com have a feeling that the Oscar Winning Director may have leaked this film himself. There are a few reasons for us to believe this. First of all, the copy that I watched was remarkably solid. I could have rented it at Scarecrow Video. This seems odd because large films like this pirated pre-release aren’t generally of this quality. They often have code and more track marks across them then Scott Weiland’s forearms. There was also a publicity stunt, in a sense, pulled which involved Jim Kenefick who runs Moorewatch.com, the largest anti-Michael Moore website on the internet. Jim was in dire need of cash due to his wife’s growing medical problems. Without $12,000 he would not be able to runs his site in conjunction with helping his wife. Moore anonymously donated the 12 grand and then revealed himself as the donor, not only in the film, but also right before publicity for the film began. I personally know of someone who he has helped gain medical assistance, but this stunt, although incredibly helpful, did go on to drive the point home of his film and the failing public healthcare in America. This is possibly the largest web leak in recent film history. This film is leaking like it took down a pitcher of highlife. On top of all of this, Moore has been quoted as adamantly supporting his films being pirated.
Perhaps he feels that his film might be banned. Perhaps he feels that this is a good way to make sure that it gets out. I don’t know what he feels, but I do know that, although this leak is a dangerous threat to the profits that could be made in theaters, it is also a film that is worth watching in one. It doesn’t only rely on content that destroys your belief system in our government. It actually makes the viewer hopeful of the possibilities of change. A former member of parliament who is interviewed in the movie suggests that the jobs which are created in times of war could be created for healthcare. He says, “If you can find money to kill people, you can find money to help people.” I know that, if you walked out of a film like this, the energy of the crowd leaving in unison with this feeling of hope and empowerment is worth the ticket price alone. Granted, this movie will divide some, because that’s what political documentaries always do, but do not be mistaken, it absolutely has great potential to be unifying.