All revved up politically from Tuesday? Escape Fire, a documentary focused on how to fix America’s “disease management” health care system, may likely augment your renewed vigor and perhaps give you something to do until the next election cycle. (On the other hand, if you want nothing to do with politics or alternate ways of viewing health care, here’s a puppy picture.)

The movie’s makers — Susan Frömke and Matthew Heineman – indirectly propose, by means of many talking heads and case studies, the following: The U.S. health care system needs to quit cutting, testing, drugging, and fixing patients so much. The U.S. has, arguably, the best medical technology in the world, but that technology, those wonderful, life-saving machines, aren’t helping us live any longer, or healthier. Americans still die younger than those in other developed (and not so developed) nations. How can this be?

Before you start thinking that the movie’s focused mainly on insurance and “Obamacare,” know that it’s not. The solution Escape Fire proposes is much simpler and, to some extent, more difficult to pull off. The answer — to driving insurance premiums down, to living longer, healthier lives – is lifestyle. It’s about having the health care system encourage healthy eating, healthy ways of dealing with stress, such as mediation, acupuncture and yoga.

If you rolled your eyes at mediation – or, God forbid, yoga – you’re not alone. But what’s surprising is that the U.S. military, the doc shows, has started using those methods to help soldiers deal with pain and PTSD. The most moving scenes in the film involve a young, self-described hill-billy soldier from Louisiana. This young man saw many of his fellow soldiers die in battle, took a bullet in the leg and, while recovering, became addicted to painkillers. But through the means described above, he made an incredible comeback without sloshing his mind and body with drugs.

If anything seemed off in the film, it was its title and central metaphor: a device used to tie up the film while also serving as an excuse for smoky, computer-generated typefaces. (Nothing like a call to arms written in smoke, right?) The term “escape fire” comes from firefighting. When battling forest fires and needing a way out of the inferno, a quick-thinking firefighter might light the grass around him on fire, burning the fuel the man-and-forest-eating fire needs to engulf those trying to stop its rampage. How the hell yoga and eating well metaphorically equate to fighting fire with fire was not quite obvious. But, to be honest, the concept works well enough.

The real success of Escape Fire is that the bad guys aren’t a set of politicians or corporations. (Well, the insurance companies aren’t portrayed in a good light. But that’s due to the mix of business and health care: those in power almost always choose business interests and dollar bills over helping the nameless, nearly powerless, silent and virtually invisible patients.) The real bad guy is more elusive: the status quo of American medicine. In a sense, the movie says, American health care just wants to be Dr. House, brilliant and drug addicted, quick to address what’s wrong in others while not wanting to change the unsustainable and not-quite-effective habits that characterize the nature of its being.

Escape Fire is playing at the St. Anthony Main Theatre.


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