michael moore’s new film: sicko

A month and a half or so ago, I was invited to attend a top secret screening of Michael Moore’s new film, “SiCKO,” in Ann Arbor. It was the first screening of the rough-cut, and there may have been 150 or so people in the audience. Security was tight, and we were all asked to sign super-strict non-disclosure agreements. As Moore says on his site, “My intention was to keep ‘Sicko’ under wraps and show it to virtually no one before its premiere in Cannes.” Well, that premier took place yesterday, and now, if I read what I signed correctly, I’m able to tell you about the afternoon I spent with him.

For those of you who haven’t read a review yet, “Sicko” is an indictment of the US healthcare system. It attacks on every level, and it does so with breathtaking precision. It is brilliant from the first frame.

It’s not a perfect film, or at least the cut that I saw had its uneven moments, but, all things considered, I’d say it’s still the most important film I’ve seen in the past five years. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens, but I really got the sense as I sat there watching this film that it could actually ignite a significant movement for change here in the US. The circumstances are right for a revolution, and this movie might just provide the spark. (The timing couldn’t be better either, given the Presidential campaign. The film, by the way, doesn’t pick sides. Moore does, however, points out that Hillary, the woman who we all remember having fought for universal coverage in the early years of the Clinton White House, is now the recipient of more money from the healthcare industry than all but one other Senator. He also points out, coincidentally, that she no longer talks about sweeping reform.)

“Sicko” opens with a man, unable to afford a doctor visit, stitching himself up with a needle and thread. Then, you’re told the movie isn’t, however, going to be about the close to 50 million Americans who don’t have insurance. (I thought that was brilliant.) No, “Sicko” is about the rest of us, the lucky ones who have insurance. “Sicko” makes it clear that no one is safe. We’re shown families losing their homes due to medical bills. We meet an HMO administrator who says, with tears in her eyes, that it’s her job to throw up as many roadblocks as possible between patients and the treatments that they require. Another woman, a nurse, tells of sitting by her husband’s bedside as he died, trying to explain why their insurance wouldn’t cover a bone marrow transplant that could have saved his life. On several occasions, I could hear the people around me in the screening room weeping.

Salon has a good review of the film. Here’s a clip:

…Still, there is no mistaking the passion and political intelligence at work in “Sicko.” It’s both a more finely calibrated film and one with more far-reaching consequences than any he’s made before. Moore is trying to rouse Americans to action on an issue most of us agree about, at least superficially. You may know people who will still defend the Iraq war (although they’re less and less eager to talk about it). But who do you know who will defend the current method of healthcare delivery, administered by insurance companies whose central task is to minimize cost and maximize shareholder return? Americans of many different political stripes would probably share Moore’s conclusions at the press conference: “It’s wrong and it’s immoral. We have to take the profit motive out of healthcare. It’s as simple as that.”

…When Moore interviews Tony Benn, a leading figure on the British left, his larger concerns come into focus. Benn argues that for-profit healthcare and the other instruments of the corporate state, like student loans and bottomless credit-card debt, perform a crucial function for that state. They undermine democracy by creating a docile and hardworking population that is addicted to constant debt and an essentially unsustainable lifestyle, that literally cannot afford to quit jobs or take time off, that is more interested in maintaining high incomes than in social or political change. Moore seizes on this insight and makes it a kind of central theme; both in the film and aloud, at the press conference, he wondered whether some essential and unrecognized change has occurred in the American character…

The film really takes off when Moore leaves the US. Moore travels to England, Canada, France and Cuba, giving us the opportunity to see our system though the eyes of their citizens. (The time Moore spends with Tony Benn is particularly inspirational… Will someone please remind me to look for a transcript once the film comes out here in the US?) Moore walks the halls of hospitals in these countries, talking to people about their health, the way they’ve been treated, and what they think about our system. The disparity is absolutely staggering. I realize that Moore, a consummate propagandist, is choosing to share only those examples which go to strengthen his point, but, even still, you’re left with little doubt as which systems work and which do not. We are failing miserably on every measure and it’s absolutely criminal. We pay more for less, die younger, and, what healthy years we have, are spent consumed by fear and anxiety. It all really hits home, like a punch to the gut, when doctor in another country says something to the effect of, “It’s my job to take care of people, why would I deny anyone treatment,” with a completely bewildered look in his eyes.

And, yes, there are problems. Moore ignores the fact that there are healthcare professionals here in the US who are doggedly fighting for change. In his attempt to make things appear black and white he doesn’t acknowledge that there are good people right here, working from within the system. In my opinion, he also goes too far during the much talked about segment filmed in Cuba. I know they have a well-regarded healthcare system, but I couldn’t help but think that we, in the audience, were being somehow manipulated. Maybe it was all the anti-Castro stuff I was subjected to during the Cold War, but I couldn’t help but think it looked as though Moore was helping them, perhaps unwittingly, dissemenate their propaganda. I said as much to Moore after the screening. I cautioned that he could lose a few people on the right side of the audience when he presents Cuba so glowingly. He noted my objection, but, I suspect the scenes I mentioned are still in the film. And, judging from all the press he’s been getting, based on the Cuban segment alone, he was probably right to have left it.

I could go on and on, but it’s just been reported that one of our cats pissed on the bed, and I need to go upstairs and help Linette deal with it.

Anyway, just go and see the movie. And then join the conversation. If my hunch is right, it’ll dominate American life more than anything else this summer. (The movie opens in the US over the 4th of July weekend.) Regardless of what you might think of Michael Moore, the film is worth seeing. (Even Fox News is calling it “brilliant“.) Just look around. It’s not hard to find an example of just how bad things have gotten in this country. It’s time to join the rest of the industrialized world and take care of our citizens the way they deserve to be taken care of.

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  1. Posted May 21, 2007 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    My wife got to see the secret screening in Flint. She was extremely impressed. She said that at one point after the film, a locally known foe of Mike’s from his high school days in Davison stood up and said, that in spite of the fact that he disapproved of Mike’s earlier films, he thought that this one was “right on the money”.

  2. Dr. Cherry
    Posted May 21, 2007 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    C’mon, Moore’s already lost the right. He’s their Emmanuel Goldstein for chrissakes.

    I saw a news story this weekend that Blue Cross is now covering off-shore operations because of the cost and relative safety. Some guy was getting hip replacement surgery in Scandinavia for a fraction of the domestic cost.

    The dogmatic old timers still think our health care system is the best on the planet and it just ain’t so.

  3. Ken
    Posted May 21, 2007 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    There is a big article in the current Time
    magazine and there is a three-panel picture
    of Mike and he is sporting and EMU baseball hat.

  4. mike_1630
    Posted May 21, 2007 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    I can’t wait to see this film – and I’m shocked to hear Fox give it a good review. :)

  5. Chelsea
    Posted May 21, 2007 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    Very interesting points made. (I, too, found myself thinking that, for many, the name “Michael Moore” will elicit “Oh, him”s.)

    In any case, imagine that this country’s police and fire services were run the way our health care system is. Do you not just shudder to think?

  6. Ol' E Cross
    Posted May 23, 2007 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    Is is just me, or does Michael Moore look like he’s about to give us all a rectal examination?

  7. Katy
    Posted May 23, 2007 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    Ol’ E – I kinda thought that was the point. If not, then, at least we both share the disturbing tendency to read innocent pictures as depicting rectal exams…

  8. kez
    Posted May 28, 2007 at 12:18 am | Permalink

    you wanna see paperwork??? i’ve been waiting for over a year for a kidney transplant… and my own younger sister is the living donor.

  9. mark
    Posted May 28, 2007 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    Shit, Kez, I had no idea. I hope you’re making headway… Let me know if you think I can be of any help. I don’t have much power, but you never know – a good post about it, timed to coincide with the release of Michael Morre’s film might prompt a reporter or two to take interest.

  10. egpenet
    Posted May 28, 2007 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    At least, if you have BCBS … and you have a stiff neck … or a hangnail … you can get all the Vicadin or Oxycontin you need at the Emergency Room.

    Lucky you.

  11. Tim Morris
    Posted January 15, 2008 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    I was interested in Chelsea’s comment about Police and Fire services, some years ago i read a report about a fire service in an american town which apparently was sponsored or run by an insurance company and they actually let a house burn because the owner was not insured with that company.

  12. Tim Morris
    Posted January 15, 2008 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    I would also like to comment about Sicko, I hope America will take this as a wake up call. The red menace has gone,universal healthcare is something to be proud of, the word “socialized” should no longer be said in a way that makes it seem a profanity. As for possible probaganda and Cuba, not long after seeing Sicko I saw a factual documentary (On National Geographic Channel I think)with much input from U.S. citizens of standing. This basically showed that Castro started of in conventional politics (i.e.non communist) and ended up in the Soviet Camp due to American reaction to him. So the fact he has a good healthcare system should be applauded. I think Tony Benn’s point is very valid, and in my opinion for people to exercise and enjoy Democracy they need good healthcare and law and order.

    Politicians need to look to long term honest policies and not to short term expediency when dealing with issues.

  13. Posted September 17, 2008 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    World Premiere of Michael Moore’s latest movie “Slacker Uprising” is tomorrow at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor.

    Moore will be in attendance, and is speaking before the film at 5:00 PM as part of the Penny W. Stamps Distinguished Visitors Series. Admission to the lecture and the film is FREE and first-come, first-served. Doors open at 4:00 PM.

  14. MMoore by proxy
    Posted November 17, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    The following comes from Michael Moore-


    Yesterday, on the TV and radio show “Democracy Now” hosted by Amy Goodman, the former Vice President of CIGNA, one of the nation’s largest health insurance companies, revealed that CIGNA met with the other big health insurers to hatch a plan to “push” yours truly “off a cliff.”

    The interview contains new revelations about just how frightened the health industry was that “Sicko” might ignite a public wave of support for “socialized medicine.” So the large health insurance companies came together over a common cause: Stop the American people from going to see “Sicko” — and the way to do that was to cause some form of harm to me (either personally, professionally or…physically?).

    Take a look at this stunning section of the interview with Wendell Potter:

    WENDELL POTTER [former executive, CIGNA]: …We were concerned that the movie [“Sicko”] would be as successful as “Fahrenheit 9/11” had been. And we knew that if it were, it really would change public opinion about our health care system in ways that would be harmful to the profits of health insurers. So, it was very important for this [attack] campaign to succeed. At one point during a strategy meeting, one of the people from [the insurance companies’ public relations firm] APCO said that if our efforts, our initial efforts, were not successful, then we’d have to move to an element of the campaign to push Michael Moore off a cliff. And not meaning to do that literally, but to—

    AMY GOODMAN: Are you sure?

    WENDELL POTTER: Well, I’m not sure. To tell you the truth, when I started doing what I’m doing [as a whistleblower], I was concerned about my own health and well-being, maybe just from paranoia. But these companies play to win. And we’re talking about some big bucks at stake here—billions and billions and billions of dollars.

    AMY GOODMAN: So what were they talking about when they said, “If this doesn’t work, we’re going to push him off the cliff”?

    WENDELL POTTER: Well, it would be just an incredibly intense PR effort, if necessary, to spend more premium dollars to defame Michael Moore, to discredit him even more as a filmmaker.

    AMY GOODMAN: So, were you doing research on him?

    WENDELL POTTER: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

    AMY GOODMAN: You were going—personally?

    WENDELL POTTER: Well, I was a part of the effort. I didn’t—that was part of the reason for hiring APCO and to work with a trade association, is that it relieved me of the responsibility of doing that kind of work. You paid for it to be done by people who were experts in doing that kind of research.

    AMY GOODMAN: But they were doing an investigation into him personally?

    WENDELL POTTER: Well, absolutely. We knew as much about him probably as he knows about himself.

    AMY GOODMAN: About his wife, about his kid, about—

    WENDELL POTTER: Oh, yeah. You know, it’s important to know everything that you might be able to use in some kind of a campaign against someone, to discredit them professionally and often personally.

    AMY GOODMAN: And did you use that?

    WENDELL POTTER: You use it if necessary.

    The interview goes on as Potter reveals how his front group was able to get its talking points and smears into stories in the New York Times and CNN. It is a chilling look inside how easy it is to manipulate our mainstream media — and just how worried the health insurance companies were that the American people might demand a true universal health care system.

    In particular, Potter talks about how they may have succeeded in influencing CNN to run a factually untrue story about “Sicko” by its reporter, Sanjay Gupta (which led to my infamous encounter with Wolf Blitzer and later, an apology from CNN for getting their facts wrong).

    Potter believes his work to defame “Sicko” succeeded, as the film didn’t end up posting “Fahrenheit 9/11” grosses. To be clear, “Sicko” went on to become the 3rd largest grossing documentary of all time at that point. And as the release of “Sicko” in June of 2007 was the first time since the defeat of Hillary Clinton’s healthcare bill in 1994 that the issue of health insurance was brought to the forefront of the national media, I believe it helped to reignite the issue during the 2008 election year by exposing millions of Americans to the truth about the health insurance industry. More than one person on Capitol Hill will admit that “Sicko” was a big help in rallying public support for the compromise bill that eventually passed earlier this year. But I agree, their smear campaign was effective and did create the dent they were hoping for — single payer and the public option never even made it into the real discussion on the floor of Congress.

    (There was really only one reason “Sicko” didn’t sell as many tickets as “Fahrenheit” and that was because of a felony that was committed — a felony that I will discuss for the first time on this site in the coming weeks or months ahead. Stay tuned.)

    Please read or watch the entire interview with Wendell Potter. It’s a fascinating peek behind the curtain of how corporate America really runs this country. And how if any of us get in their way, then those people must be stopped. It begs the question: Seeing how there’s more of us than there are of them, how long will we let their takeover of our democracy continue?

    God Bless the Ruling Class,
    Michael Moore

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