The Movie on Health Care That Obama Doesn't Want You to See
It's not a documentary, and it's not by a conservative. The writer and director is a French-Canadian leftist, or former leftist. But, among other things, the film is a horrifying and hilarious exposé of health care in Canada. The film is The Barbarian Invasions by Denys Arcand, and though it did well in the U.S. for a foreign picture, winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign-Language Film in 2004 and grossing over $25 million, it hasn't been seen by nearly enough people.
Barbarian provides a vivid glimpse of what we have in store if President Obama is re-elected in November. I should perhaps at this point issue the usual "spoiler" caveat, though as it's a film about a man with terminal cancer, there isn't much of a plot to spoil. Like many good movies, it's the interactions of the characters and the ways in which relationships evolve under stress that make the story interesting.
Rémy is dying of an unspecified cancer. His ex-wife Dominique pleads with their estranged son to fly back to Quebec from London and see his father for the final time.
The source of the estrangement is clear enough from the early minutes of the film. Rémy is an outspoken socialist history professor, a libidinous devotee of the counterculture. His son, Sébastien, is an arch-capitalist, a commodities arbitrageur for a bank in the City, who "never reads a book," Rémy says disgustedly. Each heartily despises the values of the other. But it is only the son's Gordon Gekko morals -- his willingness to bribe and bully -- and his deep pockets that enable Rémy to escape the horrors of the Canadian health care system.
These are depicted in gory detail. At the start of the film, the camera follows a nurse down the hall of Rémy's hospital. Patients in various states of distress are parked in the hallway. The corridor is packed to capacity. The nurse, bearing hosts for communion, threads her way among groaning and coughing patients, carts of dirty laundry, and electricians at work. Rémy is lucky to have a room, though it has about half a dozen other patients in it, and the staff are continually confusing him with his roommates.
The hospital is ruled by its union bosses. Nothing gets done without their approval. Laptops are routinely stolen, but "lost" computers can be promptly located after bribes to the union chief.
Sébastien notices that there's an entire floor below his father's that is unused. Lying about his identity, he gets an appointment with the hospital's administrator and requests that his father be moved to a room on the empty floor. The lengthy answer he receives is a brilliant parody of health care bureaucratese. Undeterred, Sébastien offers the administrator a folder filled with $100 bills, and he promises further "reports" each week. After protests -- "we're not a third-world country!" -- the cash is accepted. The son then pays the union lavishly to refurbish the room, and Rémy now has a private suite.
Rémy's problems with the hospital continue. He is told by his doctor that he requires a PET scan, but he will have to wait at least six months. The only solution is to cross the border to the hated U.S. of A. Sébastien makes the arrangements, and the father is scanned promptly by a private clinic in Vermont that caters to Canadian "health tourists." The results are faxed to Rémy's doctor while the van is still en route back.
Sébastien makes arrangements to send his dad to a first-rate hospital in Baltimore. Rémy objects; he doesn't want to leave his friends. But none have come to visit, so Sébastien contacts them, including some of his father's former lovers, and persuades them to return to Quebec. The movie centers on the reunion of these characters, who were the subjects of Arcand's earlier The Decline of the American Empire. They are all ex-radicals and ex-sexual revolutionaries. Their reminiscences are bittersweet. They are able to laugh at their infatuation with successive leftist "isms" and are even embarrassed by their embrace of the Cultural Revolution in China. And they recognize how their promiscuity alienated their children. But they don't grasp the extent of their legacy. And they don't comment on how their politics eviscerated an efficient and compassionate health care system in Canada.
There are some other sharp social and cultural observations in the film. Sébastien's antique-dealer fiancée has accompanied him back to Quebec. In a moving scene, she visits a vast basement in which statues, chalices, monstrances, etc. from the city's abandoned churches are stored. The old priest who accompanies her tells her that Quebec was once like Spain or Ireland, and then, suddenly, sometime in 1966, people stopped going to church. The fiancée has to tell the priest that there is nothing of value for the firm she works for. The camera rolls slowly down the rows of discarded virgins and saints, much as it rolled down the hospital corridor packed with discarded patients.
You can read all you want about the conditions in Canadian hospitals or the wait-times for procedures that can be performed within 24 hours in the U.S. But there is nothing like seeing the horrors in living color.
No regular AT reader doubts that ObamaCare's individual mandate -- now a tax -- is just another step on the road to the nationalization of health care. The requirement that insurers cover pre-existing conditions is still another step. While few question that if individuals switch jobs, their coverage ought to be transferred to the new insurer, the idea that a company be obliged to offer insurance to someone without regard to that person's medical record perverts the entire premise of insurance. It's something like being permitted to place a bet after the race is over. The object, obviously, is to bankrupt the insurance industry as quickly as possible.
And no conservative doubts that socialized medicine will convert the U.S., too, into a third-world country, where better treatment can be purchased by bribes and political leverage. Canadians with money can come to Bellingham, Buffalo, and Burlington. Where will we go after ObamaCare has been around for a few years?
But most Americans are not conservatives and are attracted by things like the extension of coverage for dependent children and the cheap drugs -- widely prescribed drugs, that is -- that the administration promises. So borrow Barbarian from the library or rent it from Netflix, invite your liberal friends and relatives over, and pick up some brie and Chablis. After the credits roll, gently bring the discussion back to the first third of the film. It could make a difference in November.