Extraordinary Measures and Health Care

Harrison Ford as a research scientist and Brendan Fraser as a father racing against time in "Extraordinary Measures"

Extraordinary Measures, the true-life medical thriller out in theaters today, focuses on a heroic father seeking treatment for a fatal neurological disorder that affects two of his children. I have mixed feelings about the movie. While I was caught up in the story of the successful pharmaceutical exec who strategizes a way to develop a treatment, I was distracted by the film's assumption that if you're sick and need healthcare, it helps to have rich parents. I wasn't the only observer troubled by this.

Roger Ebert concludes his (likewise mixed) review with: "[The movie] also sidesteps the point that the U.S. health-care system makes the cure unavailable to many dying children; they are being saved in nations with universal health coverage. " And in his review, Chicago Tribune critic Michael Phillips likens Measures with another film popular in theaters now: "The movie is being sold as The Blind Side without the football, or without everything else “The Blind Side” is actually about. The one thing these two pictures have in common is their slickly packaged belief in what the well-to-do can do, if they put their money where their heart is."

The Blind Side (which I like, but have reservations about, because it does not develop Michael Oher's character) is an interesting comparison. For if the assumption of Extraordinary Measures is that U.S. healthcare works if you have rich parents, then the  assumption of The Blind Side is that the educational system works if your parents can afford to send you to private school and get you tutors.

With the exception of Precious, which says that education is the key to self-worth, few recent movies have added to the national conversation on health-care reform or educational reform. This was not always the case. There was a month in late 1997 and early 1998 when movies diverse as As Good as It Gets, Bulworth and The Rainmaker vividly criticized the stranglehold the insurance industry has on health care. And last year's fascinating French film The Class illustrated the challenges of teaching and attending a diverse public school in Paris.

Thoughts on The Blind Side and Extraordinary Measures? Consider this an open thread to discuss how movies contribute to the national dialogue.