Sanguine to a Fault
Michael Moore Attacks HMOs, but Mostly Sucks Up to France
The reigning king of agitdocs has unleashed another film, and as you may have heard, it's a lot less agitated. Michael Moore seems confident that his audience is already frustrated with the cost-cutting strategies of soulless HMOs and the rising number of uninsured Americans, and a poll conducted by the New York Times and CBS News in March confirms his instincts ("making health insurance available to all Americans" dwarfed other domestic priorities, including reducing taxes and the current Congressional hot topic, illegal immigration).
Since the fury threshold is set so low, Sicko doesn't waste much time on tales of grisly martyrdom. Sure, there's the opening shock shot of an uninsured man suturing his own flesh with needle and thread, and a glum, underwelming human-interest story in which a couple bankrupted by health care costs are forced to move in with their grown children. But these anecdotes race by at a lively clip—perhaps too lively, considering that one woman is mourning the death of a daughter who was refused care at a hospital outside their insurance network. Michael Moore can afford to be perfunctory because he's telling us what we already know, or should: Socialized medicine may be scary, but for-profit medicine is cruel.
Horror stories thus dispatched, Moore moves on to the thumping heart of his new film, a section dedicated primarily to the shining city on the Seine. It's uncharacteristic of Moore in that it proposes a large-scale policy alternative to the system he's critiquing. But it's the same absurdly Manichaean worldview. On a grand tour of the world's great single-payer systems—Canada (free drugs!), Great Britain (sexy doctors!), and France (six months' paid maternity leave and a government nanny to do your laundry and mash up carrots!)—the populist rabble-rouser turns positively sanguine. Moore interviews healthy seniors in Canada, but for a comparison with the hapless Americans, we'd need Canadians who also suffer from chronic respiratory diseases. He interviews privileged American expatriates in a Paris bistro, but where are all the immigrants' children hanging out in the banlieues? I'm predisposed to admire single-payer systems, but this kind of fawning—that doesn't even have the courage to examine a system's challenges, much less address its critics—is embarrassing. After so many softball questions, the clips from a sunny Soviet propaganda musical that Moore had used to lampoon conservatives' idea of "socialized medicine" start to look like a commentary on the filmmaker's own innocently enthusiastic method.
Moore's credulity reaches its peak in the already infamous stunt in which he ferries sick 9/11 relief workers to Guantánamo Bay (enemy combatants are on a sweet government health-care plan, Moore contends) and then, when they're refused entry (duh), on to Havana, where his faltering flock is treated to the very best hospitals and entrusted to the handsomest doctors in Cuba. The cameras couldn't have had a thing to do with that, could they?