Monday, August 6, 2018

Movie Review: The Bleeding Edge

The Bleeding Edge *** / *****
Directed by: Kirby Dick.
Written by: Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering.
The Bleeding Edge is another hot button issue documentary – an advocacy documentary, that looks at an issue, argues its case, and urges viewers to get involved – to take this seriously. These documentaries are always well meaning – and they usually address important subject matter that we really should care about – really should become involved in. They are also usually more than a little dull to actually sit through – favoring statistics over everything else, and then wrapping everything up with an inspirational call to arms. The Bleeding Edge is like that as well – to a certain extent – but it’s still better than most of the films in this vein. In part, it’s because it has a genuinely fascinating subject matter – medical devices, and the lack of regulatory oversite that goes into them. And in part, it’s because director Kirby Dick (and producer/cowriter Amy Ziering) have been doing this for a while, and really know how to make these better than most. No, it isn’t quite the film the pair’s last two films – The Invisible War and The Hunting Ground (the first about sexual assault in the military, the second about sexual assault on college campuses) were – but it’s still better than most.
Part of what makes Dick and Ziering’s films better than most is that the strike a good balance between the true life stories they are documenting and the stats about what they are covering. Go too far one way and your doc can easily become sentimental and unconvincing – go too far the other way, and you’re essentially watching a dry, boring lecture.
The Bleeding Edge falls victim to neither trap. It focuses on just a few medical devices – and tells the story of the people involved, before slowing zooming out and showing the bigger picture. The films spend the most time on Essure – which was supposed to be a permanent birth control solution for women. Essentially, what it is a piece of metal that is inserted – in what is supposed to be a quick, easy procedure – into the woman’s fallopian tubes, and eventually scar tissue would build up to prevent pregnancy. It didn’t really work though. It caused a lot of bleeding, a lot of pain – often they wouldn’t get implanted properly, and would end up in the woman’s uterus. If you tried to remove them, it would often leave pieces of metal behind – setting off auto-immune disorders. It’s lead to ruined lives, ruined marriages, and lots of other side effects.
The filmmaker use this as a jumping off point to examine how medical devices are approved for use by the FDA – not so shockingly, this government agency seems more interested in protecting industry than they are protecting patients. The process seems to go really quickly and easily – and almost everything gets approved, often with little data to back this up. They depend on the industry to self-regulate – which we all know doesn’t work.
The film will examine other devices as well – hip replacements with high levels of cobalt, which can cause mental issues. The Da Vinci robot surgeon – which real surgeons are required to have almost no training in before using on real patients. Mesh, which is supposed to help repair a woman’s pelvis, that instead becomes a sharp object inside her body.
The film is smart enough to tell the real human stories behind the failures of these devices. It doesn’t just rely on stats – arguing that even though the patients they show know what happened to them, that even more study is required – since no one is doing them. The women who have been victimized by Essure, who form a Facebook group which slowly grows to thousands of members, determined to get the product taken off the market, are truly inspiring.
No, I don’t think The Bleeding Edge is a particularly great documentary. It is nowhere near Dick’s best work. But it is an important film – one that shines a light on an important issue, and one that isn’t covered very often.

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