This browser is supported only in Windows 10 and above.


Health care in the movies.

Health care in the movies. (photo)

Posted by on

Listening to the conflicting chatter about the recent health care reform bill sometimes reminds me of that old “Simpsons” bit where aliens Kang and Kodos are running for president. As “Bob Dole,” Kang tackles abortion: “Abortions for all.” Boos. “Very well, no abortions for anyone.” Boos. “Hmm… Abortions for some, miniature American flags for others.” And the crowd goes wild. That’s pretty much as coherent as public debate on the matter has been so far.

Everyone like to slag off their hospital system, no matter your country — and even in the movies. There’s 1982’s “Brittannia Hospital,” Lindsay Anderson’s strikingly literal-minded diagnosis of the UK that insists upon a hospital that contains everything wrong with the country, down to a “Rudyard Kipling ward.” There are also lots of arrogant, indifferent-to-life union workers — the film opens with a man in an ambulance dying because the workers won’t admit him on their tea break — the Tea Party folks would love it. If that’s not emphatic enough, there’s 2004’s “The Barbarian Invasions,” a movie I like quite a bit but which couldn’t have emphasized (demonized?) every single problem with Canadian health care harder if it’d tried.

American traditions of portraying medical care on-screen are a bit messier, and increasingly frustrated. There was the “Young Dr. Kildare” series of the ’30s and ’40s, though they didn’t place much of an emphasis on verisimilitude — 1940’s “Dr. Kildare’s Crisis” posits that epilepsy is curable and can lead to insanity.

But you can trace some passing references and increasing disgruntlement down through the years. An early example that comes to mind is James Mason in 1956’s “Bigger Than Life,” just before he goes crazy on cortisone and starts tormenting his family. First come the discussions about the costs of treatment, though. “I’m a teacher,” Mason cracks. “I can’t afford to get sick more.” The joke’s not that funny, if it ever was.

03242010_johnq.jpgThere’s more overt irritability in the ’70s: one of the surprises about Frederick Wiseman’s 1970 “Hospital” is how hard-pressed circumstance equalizes racial tension real fast, even as the treatment seems harried at best. 1971’s “The Hospital” was blunter, as you’d expect from the writer of “Network”: “We cure nothing!” rants Dr. Herbert Hock (George C. Scott, no surprise). “We heal nothing!”

But for real frustration turn to recent years, like the hysterical salvo that was 2002’s “John Q,” in which a callous HMO won’t pay for Denzel Washington’s son’s heart transplant, so he takes the hospital hostage. (Must’ve struck a nerve with someone — it made $71 million, no matter how bad the reviews were.) The alternative is to treat hospitals as a playground for soap opera and clever diagnoses (the way “House” or “Gray’s Anatomy” do). And of course there was Michael Moore’s “Sicko,” which came three years early and without any real facts employed an emotionally distorted argument with carefully selected and weighted statistics. Nonetheless, heroic doctors in any form — save the disease-of-the-week TV movie — are pretty rare.

What really got me thinking about all this, oddly, was finally catching up with “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” — not American, granted, but hang on. Park Chan-wook’s breakthrough was just as violent and elegant as promised (and significantly less stupid than what came after), but watching it the Tuesday night after the bill seemed appropriate. Seeing vague revolutionary Cha Yeong-mi (Du-na Bae) rant about the importance of having affordable health care for everyone and pass out leaflets is one thing; watching a dude try to get a kidney on the black market and then killing a whole lot of people when things go wrong is an entirely different matter. See what happens when people can’t have affordable health care?

[Photos: “The Hospital,” MGM Home Entertainment, 1971; “John Q,” New Line, 2002]

Watch More

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

Posted by on

The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

Watch More

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

Posted by on

Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

Watch More

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

Posted by on
GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

Watch More