The Bleeding Edge

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
The Bleeding Edge Movie Poster Image
Informative, eye-opening docu about medical-device industry.
  • NR
  • 2018
  • 99 minutes

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Positive Messages

Though evolving medical technology offers hope to millions, film cautions that there are deficiencies in the FDA's approval methods. Reveals a tendency for marketing to trump science at big corporations. Acknowledges normal risks but calls out abuses being ignored.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ordinary women who fight medical establishment are courageous, determined, have strong communication skills, empathy, and exhibit teamwork. Doctors and medical professionals are portrayed as compassionate, responsible, with great integrity and commitment to their patients. Corporate spokespeople and lobbyists appear mostly unresponsive and willing to sacrifice well-being of those who depend upon their integrity.


Frank discussions about loss of sexual activity.


A few signs at demonstrations use words "f--k," "holy crap."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Bleeding Edge is a frank, illuminating film for adults about failures of the FDA and medical community to carefully vet new medical devices and track long-term consequences of their implementation. It has a strong message, which uses testimony from patients, doctors, and other professionals. The film acknowledges that all medical procedures have risks, but in this film, an errant government watchdog, the FDA, allows the marketing goals of corporate entities/lobbyists to supersede the long-term well-being of patients and their families. Corporations such as Bayer and DePuy Synthes, makers of some of the devices, declined to be interviewed for the film. Viewers can expect graphic descriptions of medical procedures, resulting complications, and candid discussions of negative effects on lifestyle and sexual activity. Some footage shows placards at demonstrations that read "F--k Bayer." One nurse utters "Holy crap." While the movie will have little interest for kids other than mature teens who are intrigued by such subjects, it's an informative, often disturbing, look at an issue that impacts everyone.

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What's the story?

THE BLEEDING EDGE uses interviews, visual aids, and news footage, as well as scenes from the personal lives of its subjects, to bring an important issue to the public. Director Kirby Dick, notable director of other documentaries (e.g., The Hunting Ground, which dealt with campus rape) focuses upon three devices: a contraceptive implant (Bayer's Essure), hip replacement material (DePuy Synthes), and mesh implants (Johnson & Johnson) for gynecological use. In addition, the filmmaker spends time on cutting-edge robotic "surgeons" (daVinci). Primarily, the movie follows several women who had contraceptive devices or mesh implants for urinary tract disorders. In each case, they have been permanently damaged or have had to undergo multiple surgical procedures. Dr. Stephen Tower, an orthopedic surgeon whose own replacement hip resulted in cobalt poisoning, becomes an important advocate for due diligence. Director Dick's premise, documented with precision, is that current methods employed by the FDA for approval of medical devices aren't stringent enough to protect the public. That fact, along with the immense power of medical corporations and their lobbyists, puts the American consumer in great danger.

Is it any good?

The case for more stringent testing of evolving medical devices and procedures by government caretakers, specifically the FDA, is presented with clarity, passion, and integrity. Kirby Dick manages to elucidate a complex issue and, at the same time, engage the audience's emotions as they follow these very personal stories to their conclusions. Not everyone gets well, but each story has purpose. It's inspiring to watch Angie Firmalino take on the medical establishment. It's exhilarating to see Dr. Stephen Tower's experience change the course of history for so many others. The Bleeding Edge is a perfect example of how documentary movies, with their increasing visibility, have an impact on today's most significant issues.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can discuss the purposes of documentary filmmaking: to entertain, inform, inspire, and persuade. In which category or categories does The Bleeding Edge belong? Why? 

  • By including testimony from medical professionals about the general risks of such procedures, do you think the filmmakers have adequately presented both sides of the issue? Would you have liked to hear from the manufacturers of the devices? Why do you think they didn't want to be interviewed?

  • Think about Angie Firmalino, Tammy Jackson, and the other folks who fought back. What specific character strengths were necessary for them to succeed in their efforts? What motivated them? How did their work aiding others help them deal with what they'd been through?

  • It's clear that countries around the world terminated approval for Essure before the United States acted. Does this movie help explain why? How is this an example of the power of the marketplace over the well-being of the people it serves?

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