Get ready. Michael Moore, the director of Farenheit 911 and other documentaries is taking on America’s health care system. His stated goal for his new film, Sicko, is to do away with insurance companies, turn all health care coverage over to the government and regulate pharmacies as if they were utilities.
The movie will be in theaters everywhere come the end of June and I can’t comment on the details until I’ve seen it (I know that doesn’t stop others, but I’ve never understood how someone can criticize a piece of work they’ve never seen). I have seen the trailer, however, and read interviews Moore has given. It’s clear this film will be like his others: blatantly confrontational, heavily anecdotal, and chock full of “gotcha’s.”
So, saving comments on the content of the film for a after-release post, it seems to me the film will be a two-edged sword. On the one hand it will raise awareness of the need to fix what’s wrong in the current health care system. On the hand, by relying on anecdotes to make its case for reform, it may lead distract from reasoned, thoughtful debate.
The power of movies is immense. They not only help people think, they help them to feel. Moore is an artist and his use of sight and sound brings his anecdotes home. He makes his anecdotes compelling and motivating.
He’s not alone in this. You won’t see Stuart Browning of On the Fence Films sitting down with Oprah Winfrey or Jay Leno (Moore is already booked). But his short films taking to task the Canadian single-payer system are as devastating as Sicko is likely to be. And like Moore, they are emotionally charged.
Bringing emotion to the health care reform debate is important — but if meaningful solutions are going to emerge it will take thoughtful analysis, vigorous debate among people of good faith with open minds, and the leadership required to make difficult choices. Hopefully the cinematic fireworks sparked by the Moores and Brownings will focus attention and inspire the passion to face up to problems in the health care system. To the extent they distract and polarize, however, they will make reaching a solution harder and the debate uglier.