Under Our Skin
2008, NR, 104 min. Directed by Andy Abrahams Wilson.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 2, 2009
Wilson’s documentary advocates for the improved diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease, an illness that takes many forms and is under-recognized and undertreated by the medical establishment. With 20,000 new cases diagnosed every year (and maybe as many as 100,000 a year unreported and inaccurately diagnosed, according to the Centers for Disease Control), the disease has overtaken HIV/AIDS as our country’s fastest growing epidemic. Under Our Skin makes a carefully structured argument concerning the many reasons for this neglect: Lyme disease resembles many other common illnesses, such as M.S. and Alzheimer’s; it attacks multiple organ systems so there is no single paradigm for its development, and it often commingles with other diseases; there is no reliable test for Lyme; and there remains a widespread impression of Lyme as a fashionable disease “du jour,” and many doctors believe the symptoms are psychosomatic. The film follows several patients, many of whom have visited with dozens of physicians over the years in their maddening quest for an accurate diagnosis. Wilson, however, doesn’t stop here in his investigation. His film suggests that there are also ulterior reasons at work in the downplaying of Lyme disease, reasons that involve the patent restrictions that cause researchers to work in isolation from one another; the rise of managed care, which has been concurrent with the increase of Lyme since the 1970s; powerful naysayers among the medical experts; and the lack of “Lyme-literate” doctors and the legal persecution of the few who do specialize in the disease’s treatment. Under Our Skin, in this light, becomes more than an educational treatise on the specifics of Lyme disease. The information it presents is eye-opening for medical consumers and health professionals of any stripe. And the film incidentally makes a great case for health care reform.