Lionsgate Films

Directed by Michael Moore

With Michael Moore and a lot of industry talking heads

Rated PG-13

I can’t imagine a more important movie being released this year. I can’t imagine another movie making me feel so ashamed for America as a whole, or doing so with more justification. Damn you, Michael Moore, and bless you, for having the temerity and the guts and the balls to do what hardly anyone else is doing these days: yelling from the rafters that we are supremely fucked up as a nation, hollering about the very viable options we have to fix the mess if only we grew some backbone, and screaming with sincere conviction that it’s long past time to revolt.

Make no mistake: Sicko is an explicit call for revolution, and it is a profound and horrifying one. I’m ready to take up arms — I’m just not sure what that means at this particular crisis point. Among the many, many shocking and disheartening hard truths laid bare here, the most difficult one to parse is the one that wonders where and how to fire an effective first shot. But Sicko is, nevertheless, deeply satisfying in its own way, as if someone finally pointed out the elephant in the room, dared to laugh at the emperor’s nakedness, at long last said, “Fuck this shit.” Not that lots of folks haven’t been saying and doing these things for a long time, but here it is in one wonderfully brazen, wonderfully eloquent package.

The point is this: Our health-care system in America is sick. Truly, madly, deeply sick, because it is geared toward ensuring obscene profits for the corporations in the health-insurance racket and not toward ensuring that people are hale and hearty. Moore starts off by demonstrating that it is indeed a racket, with horrific tales of the crimes of HMOs, of all sorts of people being told they are “not eligible for insurance” because — get this — they’re sick. How evil is that? That insurance companies can deny coverage to people merely because those people would cut into the corporations’ profits?

The testimony from former HMO employees, who quit their jobs because they were so disgusted by what they had to do to keep people from getting the care they needed, is absolutely ruinous to all the filthy CEOs who have allowed their fellow Americans — their fellow human beings — to wallow in unwell misery and to die miserably over mere dollars. Is there anyone more despicable? Why, yes, there is: the politicians who enable this demented system. Some of those obscene profits, Moore shows us, go directly into the pockets of members of our Congress and Senate; it’s all a matter of public record, but Moore plays it up with his usual satirical flair … and he goes hard on both sides of the political aisle, lashing out particularly at Hillary Clinton, that one-time champion of universal, government-run, noncorporate health care; apparently even she can be bought. Moore isn’t afraid to call it what it is: corruption at the most powerful inner sanctums of our national leadership. These people do not serve us: they serve their corporate overlords. Why do we stand for this?

But Moore is just beginning: we’ve all dealt with the horror that is our health-care system, and he doesn’t need to waste a lot of time telling us what we already know. So he heads to Canada, to Britain, to France, for Christ’s sake, to show us the alternative: systems in which wellness is a priority, everyone is looked after as needed, and doctors are free to actually care for their patients instead of wondering what services they are limited in providing because some blood-on-his-hands CEO wants a new yacht. With wit that is as devastating a takedown as any angry rant could be, Moore makes fun of the image of “socialized” medicine that has been sold to us by, yup, those corporations with their obscene profits. And in the far larger context, he shows us how the American character has faltered under our system of “health care.” The inevitable next question he leaves us to ask is: How do we find the energy for a revolution when we’ve come to such a frail and feeble state in both body and soul? That’s the depressing crux of Sicko.

I laughed till I cried, sitting through Sicko, and I don’t mean that as a metaphor — I was taken down by wracking sobs of shame and pity for us Americans by the end of the film, when Moore takes a handful of 9/11 emergency responders who cannot get the medical help they need after their selfless work in lower Manhattan to Cuba, where they are treated with such kindness by Cuban doctors in the free hospital that it is heartbreaking, and mortifying. How have we Americans let such things come to pass, that the best and bravest and most altruistic among us are treated as disposable garbage? (And how we treat our weakest and most vulnerable is even worse, Moore has no hesitation in showing us, too.) How can we live with ourselves?

And that is Moore’s question. Though he tweaks his own notoriety more than once here, he doesn’t shy from being as aggressive as necessary in asking it: How can we live with ourselves?