The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Movie Review:
John Q.

Mar 4, 2002

John Q., a movie made by Nick Cassavetes, takes on the health care industry. In doing so, the movie also shows some of the problems that working people face in this country.

The main character of the story is John Archibauld, played by Denzel Washington. Archibauld is a Chicago factory worker whose company has cut his hours down to 20 a week. Since Archibauld’s wife, Denise, has a low-paying job at a grocery store, the couple has a hard time making ends meet. The movie opens with one of the Archibaulds’ cars being repossessed because they have failed to make the payments. John’s search for a second job also remains fruitless – nobody is hiring.

The Archibaulds’ problems only get worse when their son, Mike, collapses during a baseball game. Mike has a heart disease, and only a heart transplant would save his life. John finds out that his insurance doesn’t cover Mike’s expensive surgery because his company has changed his coverage to save money. John and Denise also don’t qualify for Medicare, and the hospital administration refuses to put Mike on the donor list until his parents make a $75,000 down payment.

Running out of options and time to save his son’s life, Archibauld resorts to a desperate move: he holds up the hospital’s emergency room and threatens to kill his hostages if his son is not placed at the top of the organ donor list. The rest of the story is told in typical Hollywood fashion, with melodramatic scenes and with a happy ending.

John Q. raises some important issues faced by the working class in this country, and sympathizes with workers – which is unusual in a Hollywood movie these days. But it doesn’t really address the question of what the solution might be. Quite obviously, desperate, individual acts, no matter how daring and dramatic they might be and no matter how much sympathy they may draw from people, will not solve the problem of over 40 million people in the U.S., many of them holding jobs, having no health insurance. Nor can workers have any illusions in “sympathetic” politicians, as the movie at one point implies. Nor will any politician, whether Republican or Democrat, prevent companies from laying off or cutting the hours and benefits of their workers to increase their profits.

These are social problems which can only be solved by those who have the interest to do so: the workers. And the workers’ power lies in our ability to organize and fight for our class interests – collectively, not through desperate individual acts.