It’s been quiet on the Michael Moore front of late. The Oscar winning documentary filmmaker has been keeping a low profile but keeping busy making a movie he describes as “epic.” Shot quietly in several continents “Where to Invade Next” is his look at how and why the United States keeps the military industrial complex alive. It’s a documentary but it plays like a follow-up to his lone narrative film, “Canadian Bacon.”
The concept of “Where to Invade Next” is pretty simple. Moore “invades” Italy, France, Finland, Germany, Tunisia and Norway to basically illustrate how much better the citizens of those countries have it compared to his fellow Americans. He learns Italians get a month paid leave, a “thirteenth month” set aside for enjoyment. Also, France has great food and an unsurprisingly open attitude about sex education, Finland has the best food and Norway’s legalization of drugs and saw a drop in addiction.
The tone of “Where to Invade Next” is a little different. No, he hasn’t suddenly joined the Republican party. This time out he says he’ll be “picking flowers, not weeds.” In other words, he’s looking at the bright side for once.
The material is presented with Moore’s usual amiable everyman persona. His fans will expect his brand of awe-shucks amazement, but for the first time in one of his documentaries it feels like a performance. It seems as though the movie, while entertaining, had its thesis firmly in place before the individual invasions. Moore’s idea is to illustrate how progressive ideas can lead to happier populaces and it appears he has tailored the material to fit his premise. It is a message perfectly tailored for Moore’s audience—he’s preaching to the choir on this one—but it appears to be more a treatise than a documentary. As treatises go it’s an entertaining one but the information feels too cherry picked to have the impact I’m sure Moore intended.
Sicko, the new film from Michael Moore, marks a different approach from the filmmaker, best known for his agitprop takes on gun control, big business and George Bush. The Moore who takes on America’s lucrative but appallingly inefficient health care system, is kinder and gentler, but still drives his point home with the power of a jackhammer.
For much of the film Moore casts himself as the wide-eyed traveler, an American abroad in Canada, France and England where he discovers health care systems that offer a level of care to everyone that is simply not available to all Americans. His glasses are certainly tinted a certain shade of rose, but his point is clear, the American health system is run by insurance companies who are more interested in profit than they are the health of their policy holders.
In the most provocative sequence in the film Moore takes a group of 911 rescue workers, now suffering from respiratory illnesses, to Guantanamo Bay to demand the same kind of health care for them as the Al Queda prisoners housed within. From a boat in the bay Moore bleats through a megaphone that they only want the same care offered to the “evil-doers” behind the imposing grey walls of the prison. It’s striking, incendiary and a near perfect Moore moment. When they are met with alarms instead of offers of help, Moore and his guests continue on to Cuba where they are received with open arms and given the care they need.
No health care system is perfect. Anyone who has sat in an emergency room in Toronto or Vancouver for three hours to get five stitches can tell you that, but the point Moore makes is that at least we are offered medical attention regardless of our age, the state of our existing health or income level. With that in mind I wanted to kiss the ground when I left the theatre, happy to live in a country where, by our taxes at least, we look after each other when we need the help most.