Not for the faint of heart, "Code Black" by Ryan McGarry is a documentary about Los Angeles County's emergency trauma center. Right off the bat it plunges the viewer into the most graphic elements of health care, as well as doctors' concerns about how they can balance the optimism that led them to their profession with the brutal reality they face on a daily basis. McGarry, who was in his residency at County while he was filming the movie, is just one of the many doctors who make the movie hum along.
"Someone is suffering. What are you going to do?" asks Jamie Eng, a senior resident physician says after a series of scenes that makes the goriest episode of "ER" look like kid's stuff. The staff's narration revolves around the role that emergency rooms fulfill in the American health care system, an out-sized and expensive one that goes beyond treating gunshot wounds and reaches to primary care for the most vulnerable members of society.
"When we started this, it seemed so simple. We were going to be doctors. We were going to help people. But what if those ideals can die? I mean, what if those hopes can fade into the failure of the system. If you're a young doctor, you have to ask yourself, 'how do I protect the ideals I came here for?" McGarry says early on in the film.
Amid the depressing polarization of the health care debate in Washington, the fact that they're even continuing to ask questions like that is a minor miracle. This movie shows why people go into medicine, and how tough that choice can be, however rewarding it may be.
"Code Black" is playing at the Angelika Pop-Up at Union Market at 550 Penn St. NE.