Like last year’s fine documentary The Waiting Room, but more from a doctor’s point of view, Code Black takes place in the emergency room of a California public hospital. “If you’re an outsider, this looks like total chaos,” a voice tells us early on, as we watch swarms of ER personnel descend on gurneyed patients.
That voice is no outsider. It’s Dr. Ryan McGarry, an emergency-room physician who directed this film while working as a resident at Los Angeles County Hospital, and who serves as our guide through the film and the chaos. We meet idealistic young doctors frustrated by the limitations of their job; watch as patients are unceremoniously sliced open (there’s more blood here than in most horror movies); and listen as a family member sobs behind a closed door, for a loved one too quickly gone.
Code Black (the title is a phrase referring to a jammed-full ER waiting room; a seemingly constant state at L.A. County) presents itself as a demonstration of the current crisis in healthcare, and it’s hard to watch without becoming enraged. Patients wait, in some cases, more than 12 hours to be seen. Some are turned away from private hospitals due to lack of insurance. A shortage of nurses means more waiting, and a crush of mandated paperwork keeps physicians from bedsides.
Though the film’s parade of talking-head doctors occasionally gets a bit repetitive, and its graphic ER footage made me wonder about patient privacy, Code Black is nonetheless powerful and moving, a tribute to devoted healthcare professionals, doing their job within the chaos, as best they can.
Director: Ryan McGarry.
Screenwriters: Joshua Altman, Ryan McGarry.
A Longshot Factory release. Running time: 78 minutes. Surgical gore. In Miami-Dade only: Cosford Cinema.