Saturday, June 16, 2007

"sicko" review

Moore succeeds in pulling heartstrings and raising questions, but, as usual, his analysis seems overly simplistic, and his use of montage to erase temporal and contextual distinctions raises ethical questions. For example, 11 min. into the film, Moore says he posted on the internet an open call for healthcare horror stories; we see a shot of the request dated "Feb 3, 2006." Then, 6 min. later, Moore seems to be discussing people found via this internet posting; Moore says of one "cancer killed her a couple years later" ~ but this means Moore must have interviewed her years before requesting horror stories on the internet. Given that the evidence provided by the film is almost entirely anecdotal (we see one middle class family in France and are told this is how the French live, we see one hospital in Cuba and are told this is the state of Cuban health care; throughout the film we hear the testimony of individuals and no references are ever cited for the statistics mentioned), it would bolster Moore's case if we knew exactly how and where the anecdotes were found ~ especially as much of the fear about socialized medicine comes, not just from government propaganda as Moore correctly points out, but also from anecdotal evidence, horror stories from England, France, Canada and other contries with government controlled health care.

Furthermore, when we do get nonanecdotal evidence, no details are cited, merely numbers, some of which don't quite gel with the surrounding context. 37 min. in, we are treated to the claim that US healthcare ranks 37th in the world, just above Slovenia. However, in the chart which Moore has zoomed in on, we can see that Cuba ranks 39th, just below Slovenia. But at 1:46, Moore states that Cuba has become "known around the world as having not only one of the best health care systems, but as being one of the most generous countries in providing doctors and medical equipment to third world countries" ~ both these claims may be true, but they can't be simultaneously true: that Cuba has worse and better health care than the US. A less emotive and better documented argument would have been more compelling to the thinking man, here.

This anti-Moore blogger discusses how Moore's "anonymous" charity towards him was manipulated in the film to serve Moore's purposes. He further argues that Moore's claim that his trip to Cuba was "journalistic in intent" implies "sicko" should be held to higher standards than his previous films, labelled by Moore "entertainment." I doubt a principled characterization of such standards is possible given the properties of documentary film. Nevertheless, Moore's films do seem to follow a disturbing "ends justifies the means" approach.

Despite these weaknesses, a compelling film. Even if the arguments are primarily anecdotal, the anecdotes are powerful and thought-provoking. Even if it does not succeed in offering a detailed analysis of how to improve the current situation, the film does succeed in demonstrating profound inhumanities in the existent system. Well worth watching. Furthermore, Moore deserves credit for expressing happiness that his film has hit the internet. His populist defence of the film's transmission via peer-to-peer file sharing demonstrates an authentic concern with the issues discussed in the film, and sets Moore apart from some of his high-profile peers in the message-movie biz.

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