Matthew Heineman and Susan Froemke’s 2012 documentary “Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare” tells the troubling tale of the current state of the United States health-care system. The film takes the audience around the country, exploring the multiple facets of this ailing institution.
The film interweaves the stories of various health-care system participants including clinicians, patients suffering from chronic illnesses, and injured military personnel. Though each story reveals struggles unique to its subject, the common thread that links them all is the fact that they are subject to the pitfalls of a for-profit treatment system.
This amalgam of anecdotes, supported by scholastic commentary from physicians, a medical journalist, and medical researchers, forms a comprehensive picture of the state of our medical system. By constructing the documentary this way, the audience is able to understand that the flaws in healthcare affect all involved and its effects are devastatingly far-reaching.
One particular subplot follows the journey of an ailing soldier, Sgt. Robert Yates. Suffering from numerous ailments including a back injury and severe post-traumatic stress disorder, Yates is on the precipice of disaster. The audience follows Yates’s heart-wrenching struggle to overcome a severe addiction to a plethora of prescription medications. Sinking in a system that some would argue set him up for failure, Yates embarks on a transformative journey into the world of holistic alternative medicine.
“Escape Fire” delves into the many failures of the current system. The film’s principal assertion is that the American health-care system was founded on deeply capitalistic principles that simply have no place in healthcare.
According to the film, American health care is entrenched in a larger corporate system in which empathy and care have no inherent value. This system forces together two entities that are fundamentally incompatible. As the film illustrates, this leads to an increase in superfluous medical treatments, pill pushing, the deterioration of primary care, and rapidly rising healthcare costs. In short, American health care is big business, and because of this, our national health is in jeopardy.
In terms of cinematography, “Escape Fire” is stylistically sophisticated. The editing is sharp and clean; the film tackles this overwhelming subject matter by neatly dividing it into digestible segments that include personal narratives, insightful commentary, and compelling imagery. Cartoon animations serve to illustrate statistical concepts and instrumental background music bolsters the film’s resolute tone.
“Escape Fire” calls for the audience to challenge the status quo. The film stresses that, much like a festering wound, the American health-care system will only continue to worsen without proper intervention.
It also stresses that though the corporate medical system appears impenetrable, solutions exist and are within arm’s reach. The film concludes on a hopeful note: through the implementation of holistic health-care strategies and humanist approaches we can change the current health-care system to one that achieves sustainability and effectiveness.