Just about any American who’s spent any significant time in the oft-frustrating limbo of a regional health-care system should sympathize with the subjects of Andy Abrahams Wilson’s documentary Under Our Skin. Wilson talks to people who in some cases have been sick for years—feeling fatigued, pained, befuddled, spastic, and fraught with malaise—and yet can’t get their doctors to acknowledge what they know in their bones is the problem. Wilson’s subjects all claim to suffer from chronic Lyme disease, a condition that’s been a source of controversy in the medical community. Acute Lyme disease is recognized and treatable, but the chronic version seems to elude detection and to present a grab-bag of symptoms, to the extent that many doctors dismiss those who claim to have it as hypochondriacs. But the people in Under Our Skin certainly appear to be enduring something real and insidious, and after a while, Under Our Skin’s audience may feel compelled to barge into doctors’ offices across the nation and demand answers.
The problem with Under Our Skin is that Wilson never does that barging for us. Under Our Skin is well-produced and engaging, but it’s also anecdotal and conspiratorial, and damnably non-confrontational. Roughly 98 percent of the movie presents the personal stories and opinions of patients, doctors, and journalists who believe that chronic Lyme disease exists; and a sizable chunk of those interviewees assert that the pharmaceutical and insurance industries are fighting to keep conscientious doctors from recommending courses of treatment. Wilson allows a few dissenting voices to be heard, but he never presses them, or gives them a chance to answer the accusations that he cuts to right after their soundbites. Those Lyme-skeptics may well be stooges, and the pro-Lyme contingent may well be vindicated someday. That scenario has played out many times in scientific and medical history. But it’s also true that we live in an age where annoyance with the health-care system has led to a rise in amateur diagnosticians and quack doctors ready to feed their delusions. Any advocacy doc that doesn’t acknowledge this reality is just presenting a string of sad stories, not making a case.