Review by Sean Boelman
Many documentaries about activists tend to be guilty of the common mistake of “preaching to the choir.” That is certainly not the case with Rachael Dyer and Scott Alexander Rudeman’s Pay or Die, which examines one of the most important, headline-grabbing issues we face today in a way that is thoroughly affecting.
The film follows three families whose lives are put in danger by their inability to afford the unnecessarily high price of the diabetes treatment insulin. The movie offers a combination of in-depth research and statistics, personal recollections, and showcases of activism in a way that is thoroughly powerful.
One of the wisest decisions made by Dyer and Ruderman was to give the audience a wide variety of subjects whose stories are being told. The people we see range from a family who lost their loved one to the disease to entire families struggling with their inability to afford this life-saving medicine, and it’s disheartening in a way that makes it hit even harder.
There are several sequences in the film that pack a substantial emotional punch. Even some of the more “wholesome” and “uplifting” sequences, such as a mother and daughter crossing the Canadian border to purchase lower-priced insulin, have a depressing undercurrent to them because we never should have reached a point of this much desperation.
Of course, this documentary could hardly come at a better time, as the debate over the unaffordable price of insulin is reaching a peak. This is a conversation that needs to be had — and now. The movie can act as both an amazing conversation starter for those who are unaware of the situation and provide a call to action for those who are.
With this comes a very politically-charged tone that focuses on how the United States is doing things wrong — and in some cases, how other countries do it better. Ultimately, this does result in some very overt speeches throughout, but the film’s direct nature is fitting and necessary given how urgent the topic is.
Dyer and Ruderman’s extremely polished style also goes a long way in making the movie more effective because audiences are more likely to take it seriously. The cinematography is great, and the use of infographics — that look very good — are helpful in explaining some of the more difficult to understand concepts.
It would be hard to find a more timely and necessary film playing at SXSW than Pay or Die. Rachael Dyer and Scott Alexander Ruderman have created what will likely become the definitive movie about the insulin crisis, and hopefully as many people see it as possible.
Pay or Die is screening at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival, which runs March 10-18 in Austin, TX.