Went to see Michael Moore’s most recent documentary, Sicko, today. I enjoyed the film very much and strongly encourage folks to go out and see it. I was pleasantly surprised by it in a number of ways. In particular, there was some very inspiring stuff in there about democracy and self-rule. You probably have already decided whether you want to like a Moore movie before seeing it, most likely because someone has told you either to like it or not to. My relationship to Moore’s style is complicated, very much love/hate, and so I will tell you to go see it, but leave it up to you whether or not to like it.
In classic teacher/drama geek style, I’ll start with the good. Moore knows how to tell a story. He knows how to draw out its pathos, how to draw the viewers attention, how to exemplify and surprise. He’s the guy who is the life of the party, but is also a little annoying. You know, he’s loud, and a little obnoxious, likes the sound of his own voice, but he seems like a pretty decent guy and you find it hard to dislike him too much.
I detest the sloganistic shallowness of much of Moore’s work. I defy anyone to find a cogent argument in Bowling for Columbine. I agree that it is an entertaining and informing film, but he goes for the jugular, and doesn’t bother making his way up to the frontal cortex. Lots of pathos, light on the logos. Fahrenheit 9/11 follows much the same pattern. A number of critics have come forth to say that Sicko is his most “balanced” film.
I think any examination of the film would suggest it is far from balanced. Perhaps what they mean is that we see a bit less of Moore and his histrionics. Of course, much of his oeuvre has been in the gonzo/Punked! style of uncovering the secret underbelly of… whatever. And when that underbelly isn’t that secret, he still makes it seem so. As such, I’m torn with most of his films. I generally agree with his perspective on political issues, but I hate that he comes to represent the “Voice of the Liberal,” especially because the view presented is so often obviously partisan. With the exception of the flotilla to Gitmo–which seems to be a bit of a nod to his earlier approach–this film comes together more tightly, and far less obnoxiously. In large part, I think that’s because Moore surrenders more of his frame to others’ faces; the audience spontaneously applauded several of Tony Benn’s comments.
But balanced? Hardly. The viewer leaves the theater convinced that universal health care is the obvious choice, that the government should do our laundry for us (yes, really) and that the only reason it hasn’t happened yet is that Big Med is paying off our politicians. I think that’s probably a big part of the story, and I think that it’s vital that we do create some form of universal health coverage in the US. But in order for that to happen, I think people need to understand that there is a trade-off. I recently saw an interview with four anonymous physicians in, I think, New York magazine. Their argument was that unless you are half of a pair of Siamese twins, or otherwise need some miracle cure–in other words, if you are part of 99.9% of the population–you would be better served by a government-sponsored universal health care system than our current mess. Although I am not a fan of big government, I have to agree strongly. The question we are left with is how to do that.
And here’s were we come to the problem with the film. It’s affecting, no doubt: not a dry eye in the house. It’s inspiring, and it’s the kind of inspiration that is hard to come by because it goes to the root of who we are as individuals and as a people. But it is also shallow. Nowhere does Moore talk to anyone who opposes universal health care. Nowhere does he talk about some of the real obstacles to changing our current system, or the difficulties Canada, France, and the UK have had in managing their own health care systems. Of course, Moore’s approach to such people would make it hard to find anyone willing to discuss it with him, but I’m left wanting to hear the arguments against, if only to know how he would refute them.
In the end, if enough people go to see this film, it will raise it to the level of an issue for the presidential campaign, and may force whoever is elected to make some substantial change in how health care is handled in the US. In the best of worlds, I think the film could do that. As a film, it’s really quite good–entertaining and engaging. But there remains some part of me that gives that praise grudgingly, knowing that it is more screed than cogent argument.