"Code Black": A film as overcrowded as an emergency waiting room.
“Code Black” is a vivid medical documentary about way too many things. Within under an hour and a half, director Ryan McGarry halphazardly and deficiently burns through a handful of major topics dealing with the healthcare system. From the viewpoint of a surgeon cutting open a patient, to overflowing emergency rooms, McGarry focuses on a team of medical students as they complete their senior years as residents at Los Angeles County Hospital.
McGary, an attending physician at the hospital, attempts to capture the complexities of too many different topics in one film. "Code Black" is advertised to be about the present day health care system and how it inhibits doctors from connecting with their team and their patients.
While this is covered in a relatively surface level way, the film starts out with topics that are much more interesting. It looked like the director couldn’t decide the importance of one over the other.
The opening of the film is a scene of over two dozen doctors scrambling and cramming themselves into a tight cubicle to undergo surgery on a person sustaining a gunshot wound.
The explanation of the scene and the history of that one cubicle, L.A. County’s ‘C- booth’, reels the audience into the fascinating prospect of a gory insiders scoop on what its like to be a surgeon.
Later, McGary explains the significance of this small space in the old county hospital where more miracles and more deaths have occurred in the span of its existence from the 1940’s until its dismantle in 2008.
In this tight cubicle, open to observations by other medical students, McGary explains how this was where medical students learned emergency medicine and the practice of being a surgeon.
At this point, it looks as though the film turned from insights of surgeon life to the history of LA County hospital, but surprise, there’s a new turn. The film then pretty rapidly dives into the new hospital built in 2008 that tore down C-booth.
The senior physical lament at the fact that C-booth has been replaced by a system that’s more private for the patient. They feel that though a patient being comfortable in closed quarters is a great thing, it really takes away from the adrenaline of operating out in the open, right next to other patients in C-booth.
McGary also presses the issue of paperwork introduced by the new health care system requiring patients specific rights for privacy and decency.
Instead of perhaps delving further into why that system is in place and whether recent changes truly help or harm, the director chooses to focus on the petulance of the senior residents and their frustrations with the new hospital.
And though these frustrations are a legitimate symptom of the new health care system's multi-faceted complications, McGary made them look like pouty superheroes whose powers have been arbitrarily suspended.
The film further jumps to a topic that requires three times the amount of focus that it was given and is supposedly what the film is centered around, the state of ‘code black’ in emergency waiting rooms.
"code black" is a term used to define an emergency waiting room that is massively flooded with people who do and don't have insurance, waiting hours at a time to receive medical help.
Through a kind of awkward forced collaboration at a coffee shop, the senior residents begin pitching ideas to lessen the waiting hours and re-introduce some of the quick thinking high stress environment they remember from the C-booth era.
They come up with relatively unstable ideas that slightly improve the circumstances, however, for the most part, McGary makes it clear that the present system is broken, citing the horrendous wait times as proof.
In the end, the physicians have part of their superhero powers returned to them, meanwhile, the documentary uncovers the effects of the overflow of patients without insurance.
Since Obamacare makes the purchase of insurance a legal necessity, hearing the hospital’s side of that debate would have been fascinating. This topic alone should be its own documentary.
Though its well shot and edited, the research is relatively surface level and there are too many controversial long-winded topics stuffed under one title.
Though this film lacked focus, I hope it will encourage a ripple effect of other hospital documentaries which explore some of these important, contemporary health care topics that affect everyone.