License to Ill

Running time 113 minutes
Written and directed by Michael Moore
Starring Michael Moore

Michael Moore’s Sicko unloads a powerful blast against the American medical, pharmaceutical and insurance industries for their profit-driven jihad against ill and dying Americans. One may quibble with Mr. Moore’s anecdotal oversimplifications and his xenophilic fantasies, but he has struck a socio-psychic nerve in the body politic, generating a feeling of outrage that seems to be reverberating in every theater in which the movie is being shown. And this time out, he has not been too obnoxiously obtrusive with his patented ball-capped faux-naif act. In Sicko, he manages to submerge himself in asking the most fundamental question: How can we Americans pursue happiness if we cannot afford to pay for our health care? Mind you, I am not at all optimistic about the slow-grinding gears of government being speeded by a mere movie, particularly when so many politicians, as Sicko shows with graphic humor, have been purchased by the health industry lobbyists.

For that matter, I wonder if we are still the richest country in the world if we subtract all our personal and collective debt from the equation. We may be instead the most profligate and spendthrift society in history, both individually and collectively. This may be a subject for Mr. Moore to discuss in his next movie, though I doubt that he will find many people eager to confess their own spending propensities beyond their means and beyond the dictates of prudence. We are a nation of liars and dissemblers on that subject, and we have the biggest gambling problem anywhere on earth.

Still, Mr. Moore is right on when he exposes the chicaneries of our hit-and-mostly-miss health-care system through the testimonies of both its victims and a few of its conscience-stricken practitioners. For his biggest laugh, however, Mr. Moore zeroes in on all the red-baiting propaganda indulged in by the well-heeled opponents of Hillary Clinton’s universal health care plan at the beginning of the Clinton Administration. Footage is shown of snake-oil salesman Ronald Reagan warning with visual aids of the Sovietization of America that would result from so-called “Socialized Medicine.” Sicko jumps right in with its own comic embellishment via a Stalinist celebration in Technicolor of deliriously happy Russian wheat-growers on a collective farm.

What surprises me the most is the absence from Sicko of Harry and Louise, who have been credited with helping to destroy Mrs. Clinton’s health care plan by their constantly moaning about losing the services of their beloved family doctor. I can’t help wondering where Harry and Louise are today, and how well they’re faring with their supposed freedom to choose their own physicians. Perhaps Mr. Moore couldn’t get the rights to their devastatingly destructive footage.

Instead, Sicko goes right to the top for its prime suspects: Richard Nixon pushing through a costly prescription-drug bill at the behest of an industry lobbyist, and George W. Bush signing a huge giveaway to the insurance companies with their cruel methods of disqualifying clients with health problems. There is one bizarre encounter showing George W. beaming approvingly at an elderly woman who has just told him that she works at three jobs to make ends meet. One might think that the self-proclaimed compassionate George W. should be near tears instead.

Once Mr. Moore departs from the U.S. to barnstorm selectively in Canada, Cuba, England and France, he leaves himself open to the assaults of the naysayers. Medical care is “free” in all of these countries, but doubts about the quality of care are never adequately addressed. In Cuba, Mr. Moore scores a coup by showing the first-rate medical care afforded to the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. And his poorly-treated American patients, made ill from their work at Ground Zero, are attended to virtually without cost in Havana’s international showcase hospital. But Mr. Moore never visits other less well-endowed institutions, or raises the ticklish question of the status of other freedoms in Cuba.

The only Canadians I know tell me that care is free, and drugs are cheaper than in the U.S., but that there are long waits for operations. London is reportedly about the same, but Paris seems almost as idyllic as Mr. Moore claims it to be while he is posed against the Eiffel Tower. But again, Sicko can be criticized for not visiting any of the suburban lower-class banlieues where all the riots took place.

So see Sicko with an open mind, and you will find much more with which to agree than to disagree—that is, perhaps, if you are not one of the have-mores or one of their lower-income lackeys, of whom there are too many in our eternally befuddled electorate. License to Ill