I was very impressed by this film, which is Moore’s best work to date. Liberal critics of Michael Moore criticise his techniques of doorstepping corporate suits to make them look shifty, and using tabloid presentational techniques and emotive arguments. But in truth, Moore is merely subverting the expectations and habits of mainstream film-making.
Spokespeople in organised press conferences in plush corporate settings have their words sanctified by the context, and they therefore exclude discordant voices. Although there is rarely meaningful content in the doorstepping approach Michael Moore uses, when confronting corporate spokespeople, he is taking them out of their context, and the real message that comes across is the truthful one that corporate power is inaccessible and unaccountable.
Similarly, Moore’s use of emotive examples is exactly what the corporations and government do, and only when it is used against them do they describe it as propaganda.
Illustrated throughout with heart-rending personal cases, and with whistle blowing individuals who have worked in the US health care system, Sicko shows an utterly rancid system, where insurance companies seek to minimise the amount of health care provided to Americans.
Particularly moving was the testimony of a a young women whose husband died of cancer despite the fact that his brother was a perfect match for a bone marrow transplant that could have saved his life. He was not one of the 50 million Americans who have no health cover, but the insurance company weaseled their way out of paying.
Moore then goes on to compare the US system with the socialised health care systems of Canada, Britain, France and Cuba. This includes interviews with Americans living in France and Britain, and taking American patients denied health care to Cuba for treatment.
The interesting thing here is Michael Moore’s very firm grasp of the potential of progressive patriotism. The common collective identity that Americans feel was illustrated in a positive way by showing the charity work and community spirit, and then this was contrasted with the selfishness of the Health companies. Similarly the strong and positive identification that Americans have with their state owned fire service, postal service and education system was used as an example of how a state owned health service could be compatible with American values.
The battle for values is at the heart of how socialists should relate to national identity and patriotism. Michael Moore brilliantly argues a case in the film for how other countries have a national culture of caring for each other in their socialised health care system. He then argues that American society instinctively has the same values, but that the private health care system and pharmaceutical companies betray those ideals, and that the rich are anti-social and un-American. In this way liberal and patriotic opinion can be channelled and shaped into a progressive direction, strengthening and consolidating the position of the left.
The highlight of the film is when he takes the patients to Cuba, some of them volunteers who became ill after working at ground Zero following 9/11, but who have been denied health care. Promising that they would receive no better and no worse treatment than Cubans, the American patients are overwhelmed by the quality of care and compassion, and that drugs they pay $120 for are available for 50c.
Brilliantly, the film ends with the 9/11 volunteers being received as honoured guests by a Cuban Fire station, and the international solidarity of working people is celebrated.