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Movie reviews by Gerald Panio

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Wit (2001)

People die in character.” – Elizabeth Kübler-Ross

Now is not the time for verbal swordplay. Now’s the time for simplicity. Now is the time for, dare I say it, kindness. I thought being extremely smart would take care of it. But I see I have been found out.” –Vivian Bearing, in Wit

It has taken me a little while to get to Mike Nichols’ very fine, very intense film Wit (2001). Several friends had highly recommended it, but I had this nagging doubt about how I’d handle a film focused on a woman’s struggle with terminal cancer. I guess I feared that the whole experience would be somehow morbid, an uncomfortable emotional voyeurism. As usual, however, I was wrong. Given Mike Nichols’ talent as a director, and Emma Thompson’s as an actor, I should have known that Wit would offer much more than a cycle of pain and despair. In a moving transcendence, the film lives up to its curious title. Wit is the story of a life lived as a verbal fencing match, and a death that demands a surrender of arms.

Emma Thompson plays the role of Vivian Bearing, a 48-year-old professor of 17th century poetry at a prestigious British university. The film begins at the moment that Dr. Kelekian (Christopher Lloyd) informs her, as peremptorily as possible, that she has been diagnosed with stage 4 advanced metastatic ovarian cancer. There will be no stage 5. Kelekian recommends that Vivian agree to an eight-month course of no-holds-barred chemotherapy, the “Full Dose.” This is to be undertaken not with the hope of a cure—a virtual impossibility given the late discovery of the cancer—but because of Kelekian’s belief that Bearing might be one of the few patients with the willpower to survive long enough to give his research team some invaluable new data.

There will come a time, of course, when the necessity for data collection versus the need to maintain simple human dignity will be on a collision course, but on the whole Vivian accepts scientific martyrdom as the closing act of an uncompromising life.

Vivian Bearing’s life has been based entirely on words and their evocative power. A scholar of metaphysical poetry, specializing in the work of John Donne, she has opened her heart and soul to language. Sadly, she seems to have also shut down both heart and soul insofar as they touched on the people who have passed through her life. Vivian fully appreciates the cruel irony of how cancer suddenly makes the language to which she has devoted everything turn on her in the end. Her doctor talks to her of “insidious” cancer and “pernicious” side-effects, sounding like he’s describing characters in a bad Western. For Kelekian, Bearing is Wyatt Earp walking into a carcinomic OK Corral.

How galling that something described as “pernicious” and “insidious” should take from her the life that she has devoted to the linguistic splendor of John Donne, in whose poetry words—and even punctuation marks—are the stones and mortar of perfect miniature cathedrals. How galling that her final days should be spent in a place where the question “How are you feeling today?” has no real meaning to anyone. Where it’s posed when she’s lying “with a tube in every orifice,” and where she fully expects someone to ask it of her pro forma when she’s dead. Knowing the power of language, Vivian tries to learn the new vocabulary that’s the stock-in-trade of her medical overseers. “I want to know what the doctors mean when they anatomize me—my only defense is the acquisition of vocabulary.”

Vivian’s treatment is going to be “very aggressive.” A medical mugging. She thinks that she will be able to stand it because she will handle dying like she has handled living—alone and without compromise. Again, she can appreciate the irony that the language called for in her new condition is more apt for the soccer field or hockey arena than for the parsing of sonnets. Yet as her treatment progresses, we come to realize that the new metaphors are not wholly unsuited to her former life. Her own teaching style would have been described by many of her students as “very aggressive”; her toughness as a taskmaster led one former student to describe her class as a poetry boot camp. In another of those twists that Vivian can fully appreciate, that same former student, Jason Posner (Jonathan M. Woodward), is now a young research doctor working on her case with Kelekian. Like too many of Vivian’s students, perhaps, he’s proud of having mastered her class while failing to demonstrate an iota of empathy for its content. Posner invests all his passion in investigating the biochemical terror that’s killing his former teacher. He views unstoppably metastasizing cancer cells with the same wonder Bearing had for the intricate paradoxes of Donne’s metaphysics.

It is a single poem, “Death be not proud….”, one of John Donne’s Holy Sonnets, that weaves together the threads of the entire film and of Vivian Bearing’s life. Donne’s sonnet is up to the task; it’s one of the greatest meditations on mortality ever written. Early in Wit we see the young Vivian being upbraided by the formidable Professor E.M. Ashford (Eileen Atkins). Ashford tells her that she has hopelessly bungled her paper on “Death be not proud….” because she used an edition of the poem that had the wrong punctuation in the last line. I love this scene because it’s one of the best displays of passion for the written word that I’ve seen. Too easily dismissed as mere academic pedantry, Ashford’s focus on detail is an acknowledgement of the power of the smallest of words or pauses in speech to haunt us if delivered in the right context. In the context of the brutal spiral of Vivian’s pain, Donne’s poem becomes the lifeline that holds her from despair. She recalls Ashford telling her that in Donne’s sonnet, with the proper punctuation, death is “nothing but a breath…a comma separates life from life everlasting…Death is no longer something to act out on a stage with exclamation marks. It is a comma, a pause.”

As she replays John Donne’s poetry in her mind, Vivian also continues to get a lot of mileage our of irony. When Kelekian and Posner pay her a bedside visit with a coterie of eager interns, delivering running commentaries on the state of her body like Don Cherry on Coach’s Corner, Vivian marvels at the spectacle “full of subservience, hierarchies, gratuitous displays, sublimated rivalries…Just like a graduate seminar.” Their seemingly morbid desire to pore over her condition in excruciating, objective detail turns out to be the medical version of the same desire to know more that had driven her work as a scholar. Her cancerous, chemically-battered body is Kelekian and Posner’s sonnet, the text of their upcoming papers. As Vivian says, it’s “publish and perish.”

Even the sharpest wit and the sharpest sense of irony must ultimately cede to the hammer blows of pain. Wit comes up short. Paradoxes become appalling instead of exciting. In Vivian’s words, “You cannot imagine how time can be so still; it hangs, it weighs, and yet there is so little of it; it goes so slowly, and yet it is so scarce.” As her world constricts to a tight ball of unrelenting agony, Vivian reaches out for kindness in a way she has never done before. Susie (Audra McDonald), a black nurse on her ward, becomes her guardian angel. Professor Ashford returns briefly as her only outside visitor, at her most vulnerable moment. Barely capable of speech, on the brink of death, Vivian reacts with horror when Ashford proposes to recite Donne to comfort her. A gentler farewell is needed. Ashford finds it in a gift she’s just purchased for her granddaughter.

Director Mike Nichols handles Vivian’s story with consummate skill. The flashbacks are unique, bringing the gaunt, suffering Vivian into remembered scenes of childhood and early university. Nichols allows Emma Thompson to address the camera directly, a risky strategy that works because of Thompson’s bravura performance (one critic compared it to Renée Falconetti’s in Carl Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc—high praise indeed). The music chosen for the film, four modern classical pieces by Shostakovitch, Arvo Pärt, Górecki, and Charles Ives, is as subtly evocative as the punctuation of the Holy Sonnets.

…And Thou like adamant draw mine iron heart. A line from Donne. For the poet, “Thou” was God; for Vivian, just pain. The “drawing forth” comes too late. Too long unmoved her iron heart. The times for kindness were long ago.

 

Looking Back & Second Thoughts

Once I taught, now I am taught.” –Vivian Bearing, in Wit

This is what happens when irresistible force (ovarian cancer) meets immovable object (formidable John Donne scholar Vivian Bearing). Except there’s no happy ending here. The force is truly irresistible, and Vivian, despite her stoicism and her heroic take-no-prisoners approach to treatment, must move from sardonic wit to self-doubt to a childlike need for a loving touch.

Twenty years ago, when I first reviewed Wit, I had never been seriously ill and my medical file had two pieces of paper in it. No life-threatening illness had affected my immediate family, or my colleagues or close friends. Yet even living within that blessed bubble, Emma Thompson’s performance drove home for me something of what it meant to confront mortality sooner and more painfully than one could have prepared for.

Now, two decades later, my medical file is as thick as a phone book. No need to go into detail, except to mention that a series of kidney stone attacks were excellent lessons in helplessness in the face of unrelenting pain. My mother waged a long, stubborn, successful rearguard action against failing health to stay independent in her own home, accepting hospitalization only in the final two weeks of her life. Cancer has touched my own life, as well as the lives of friends. I miss the bubble.

None of these experiences have affected my admiration for Wit’s unflinching portrait. What has changed is my awareness of how the quality of a person’s life translates into the love and support of those touched by that life. A teacher with Vivian Bearing’s passion for metaphysical poetry and with her uncompromising standards would never have been alone during the protraced months of her treatment. From everything I’ve seen during my years as a teacher, and after, a true love of literature is a love of life, and a love for life isn’t conducive to loneliness. Ms. Bearing may not have had a family or a lover, but she would never have been forgotten by the colleagues with whom she worked or the students whom she mentored. In the film, only her mentor Evelyn Ashford visits her in her final hours. This is not the way it happens, I think. What Ashford does is, from my experience, only a final act of kindness in what would be an unbroken chain of such acts. Denys Arcand’s The Barbarian Invasions (2003) sets up a fine dialectic with Wit by surrounding its dying, cantankerous protagonist’s bedside with an estranged son, an ex-wife, old friends, and former lovers.

While the years may have taught me more than I want to know about illness and getting older, they’ve only reinforced my joy in discovering teachers like Robin Blaser who help me see so much where I once understood so little. I’ve included a few of my favorites in the Books section above. I’ve never actually met Sister Wendy Beckett or Roger Ebert or Pauline Kael, but they have opened critical doors for me for as long as I can remember.

Unlike Vivian’s hospital experiences, or that of Rémy in The Barbarian Invasion, I have nothing but the highest praise for the professionalism and the compassion shown to me by doctors and nurses whenever I’ve chanced to be in their care in hospitals both at home and abroad. I’m eternally grateful.

Finally, a mention of that sublime moment in Wit where Ashford, cradling Vivian, reads her the story of the Runaway Bunny. Just in case I’m unable to do so if the time comes, I’m putting in my request for Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back. No need to cuddle.

Director Mike Nichols died in 2014 at the age of 83. His follow-up to Wit was the award-winning TV series based on Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Angels in America. Emma Thompson currently has 2 Oscars and 94 acting credits on Imdb, along with 17 screenwriting credits. Eileen Atkins has 103 credits and a Primetime Emmy. Christopher Lloyd has an astounding 238 acting credits, with a half dozen films in production as I write this in early 2022. Audra McDonald continues to have a successful acting career. Jonathan M. Woodward seems to have worked only sporadically in television and films since 2001. Harold Pinter won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005, and was twice nominated for an Oscar.

Holy Sonnets: Death, be not proud

By John Donne

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;

For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow

Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.

From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,

Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,

And soonest our best men with thee do go,

Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.

Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,

And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,

And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well

And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?

One short sleep past, we wake eternally

And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

 

Available on YouTube? Yes, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7aW4tzklTLQ

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7aW4tzklTLQ

Movie Information

Genre: Drama | Filmed Play
Director: Mike Nichols
Actors: Emma Thompson, Christopher Lloyd, Eileen Atkins, Audra McDonald, Jonathan M. Woodward, Harold Pinter
Year: 2001
Country:
Original Review: November 2002

Cyberspace:

Disney responds to Peter Dinklage’s Snow White criticism

https://www.cbc.ca/news/entertainment/disney-dinklage-snow-white-1.6328618

Can you say “problematical”?

Mahershala Ali Finally Gets the Leading Role He Deserves

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/25/movies/mahershala-ali-swan-song.html?campaign_id=9&emc=edit_nn_20220126&instance_id=51295&nl=the-morning&regi_id=7605539&segment_id=80746&te=1&user_id=94967eccee1a3cd588551282a39025f7

Robert Ito at the New York Times profiles an exceptional actor who has paid his dues, and then some.

OVID.tv

https://www.ovid.tv/?utm_source=The+Nation&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=300×250+Netflix+for+the+Left&utm_id=JANUARY+24+email

A streaming service, curated by Jonathan Miller, that Criterion Channel fans can revel in. From the website:

OVID started operating in March 2019. It was launched by Docuseek, LLC with the help of an unprecedented collaborative effort by eight of the most noteworthy, independent film distribution companies in the US. 

OVID.tv now provides North American viewers with access to over a thousand documentaries, independent films, and notable works of global cinema, most unavailable on any other platform. We add 20 to 35 new films to the service every month.”

The day I looked at OVID’s homepage, the site was featuring a documentary on Anarchism, three films by Ann Hui, new and classic films from Colombia, a documentary on Antisemitism, Chris Marker’s Bestiary [five short films about animals], and a French series called Maison Close .

A Night at the Garden

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NC1MNGFHR58

Discussion of “A Night at the Garden” with Marshall Curry and Rebecca Kobrin

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQ7gabbzKso

From PBS, Marshall Curry’s 7-minute documentary on the February 20, 1939, Nazi rally at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Attendance: 20,000. Yes, It Can Happen Here. It already has.

The second link provides a half-hour dialogue on the film and the rise of Nazism in the U.S.

Films Worth Talking About:

Code Unknown, Cure, Amores Perros, Moulin Rouge, The Others, Amélie, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Ali, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Fat Girl, The Devil’s Backbone, Ocean’s Eleven, Sexy Beast, Wet Hot American Summer, Monsters Inc., Werckmeister Harmonies, Gosford Park, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, The Man Who Wasn’t There, Audition, Memento, The Royal Tannenbaums, Ghost World, In the Mood for Love, Mulholland Drive, No Man’s Land, The Piano Teacher, Kairo, In the Bedroom, Donnie Darko, Black Hawk Down, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Shrek, Pearl Harbor, Jurassic Park 3, Planet of the Apes, The Fast and the Furious, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Cast Away, Traffic, [Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon], A Beautiful Mind, Enemy at the Gates, Spirited Away, Training Day, Legally Blonde, A Knight’s Tale, Jeepers Creepers, Frailty, Hannibal, Rush Hour 2, Joy Ride, Bridget Jones’s Dairy, Kiss of the Dragon, The Mummy Returns, Ghost World, Waking Life, The Gleaners and I, The Circle, Va savoir, Eureka, The Deep End, Together, Apocalypse Now Redux, Y Tu Mamá Tambien, Ichi the Killer, What Time is It There? Vanilla Sky, Sex and Lucía, Trouble Every Day, Zoolander, Millenium Actress, Blow, My voyage to Italy, Under the Sand, Children Underground, The Endurance, Lantana, The Day I Became a Woman, Together, Fighter, Faat Kiné, Jung (War) in the land of the Mujaheddin, Last Resort, The Last Castle, The One, Evolution, The Majestic, The Safety of Objects, Josie and the Pussycats, Kissing Jessica Stein, 61, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, K-Pax, Osmosis Jones, Das Experiment, Buffalo Soldiers, Shaolin Soccer, The Pledge, My Sassy Girl, [Smell of Camphor, Perfume of Jasmine], Monsson Wedding, How Harry Became a Tree, Hundstage, Secret Ballot, Lukewarm Water Under a Red Bridge, I’m Going Home, R Xmas, La Stanza Del Figlio, Trouble Every Day, Il mestiere delle armi, Les mes fortes, Baran, Time Out, Storytelling, Hi Tereska, Lan Yu, Lagaan

The Bigger Picture

Films: The Barbarian Invasions (2003), Angels in America (2003)

Music: Dmitri Shostakovich, Serenade Adagio, String Quartet #15; Arvo Part, Spiegel im Spiegel; Henryk Górecki, Symphony No. 3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs); Charles Ives, The Unanswered Question

Books: Margaret Edson, Wit; Tony Kushner, Angels in America; Helen Vendler, The Art of Shakespeare’s Sonnets & Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries; Hugh Kenner, The Pound Era; Northrop Frye, The Great Code: The Bible as Literature; Marjorie Garber, Shakespeare After All; Robin Blaser, The Fire: Collected Essays; Harold Bloom, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human; Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses; Robert M Durling, The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri; Sister Wendy Beckett, Sister Wendy’s 1000 Masterpieces

The Word on the Street

Instead of being manipulative and corny though the film is endlessly poignant, convincing and touching. The style is quite similar to Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads, with Vivian being quite matter-of-fact in her to-camera scenes but ultimately betraying emotion and hurt underneath. This approach is well mixed with more traditional scenes and it worked really well for me. I liked the way that Nichols drew the flashback scenes into the monologue scenes and then into the wider scenes with other characters, it worked very well for me and made the film flow in a rather beautiful fashion. [bob the moo]

Director Mike Nichols hasn’t been this focused in a long time (he flashes around in this woman’s life with uncanny accuracy, and always returns to the present at just the right moment). [moonsprinner55]

I suppose some folks might actually think the point of all this had to with cancer and the pathos of a woman’s death, or the skill of such a portrayal. But I believe it is crafted to elicit precisely that notion and then destroy it. The story is not about cancer, but about WATCHING cancer. The doctors are not healers, but observers. We are not passive watchers, but observers that are addressed directly. Emma is an actress watching the whole process, a professor observing herself and only incidentally a woman dying. [tedg]

Having known far too many people who’ve gone through this, I can say without hesitation that they got the details nailed down when it comes to the effects of chemotherapy. Emma Thompson does her usual marvelous job and Christopher Lloyd does a surprisingly understate

d turn as her doctor. But the actress playing the nurse (Audra McDonald, I believe is her name) almost steals the film. I won’t be the same for quite some time. Highly recommended. [llltdesq]

…Thompson goes all out, shaving her head for the production (as did her predecessors for the stage productions of Wit the previous two years). Without question it is Thompson’s convincing, virtuosic presence that makes the movie so poignant, and so devastating.
Thanks to Nichols, there are film-making sleights of hand throughout that add to both the artfulness and the richness of the experience. It’s odd to think of the film as elegant, but the moving in and out of flashbacks, sometimes with the character out of place in time (once, Bearing is a child at home in a flashback but it is played by the dying woman in a hospital gown) is superbly well done. The closeups on tormented faces, the long long takes as Bearing gives herself to soliloquy, the slipping from one mode to another, from sadness to humor, all of this builds and compounds. By the end, if you are not a blubbering mess, you are probably in shock, and it sneaks up on you. The filming becomes transparent, even with all its effects. Amazing stuff. [secondtake]

By her own admission Vivian is a person who wants to know things, so one thing that puzzled me was why she did not ask more questions at the time of her initial diagnosis. Questions like: “What are my options?”, “What are the odds in each case?”, “What if I do nothing?”, “Can you recommend someone to give me a second opinion?” Given the odds, it looks to me like she would have been much better off to have done nothing but wait until the pain was so bad that she could go on morphine. As it was, her treatment made her life a living hell for the time she had left. [bandw]

n the movie, you sense that prior to the onslaught of her cancer, she has always perceived herself as above the rabble. Now, in the hospital, stripped of her status, she finds herself powerless. Her doctor, a former student of hers, still calls her “Professor Bearing,” but it’s an empty acknowledgment. She is at his mercy, and she is put through examinations she finds degrading. In an ironic twist, she sees herself in the young doctor. As a professor, she lacked compassion. All she cared about was the proper veneration of Dunne’s work and she readily admits to being brash with her students. Her doctor similarly only cares about the wonders of cancer. He perceives her only as a test subject, and he is incapable of any bonding. He is at his lofty peak, on top of the world, sure of himself and sure that he doesn’t need anyone else; whereas Bearing has fallen, her composure has broken, and the once stoic professor is now wracked with pain and insecurity.
The way Bearing handles her pain parallels my own, and it is scary to watch. When I am incapacitated by pain and incapable of doing anything physical or focus on anything outside my head, all I can do is think. I retreat within myself and play word games in my head. It distracts me from the pain and prevents my thoughts from running amuck. All Bearing can do is wield her wit and recite the lines of Dunne. It is all she has left, but slowly, insidiously, they are taken from her. As the movie draws to a close, all we see of Bearing is but a shell of her former self. She does not want to be resuscitated when her heart stops beating. If you have been able to put yourself in her place through the movie, you understand her choice. And if you have seen her in yourself like I have, it is a decision you probably would have made for yourself. [eddax]

MDb says this movie is now shown in many medical schools teaching future MDs the importance of compassion. Roger Ebert said Thompson’s performance was her best on film. [Bob Pr.]

My wife has had cancer three times. The last time was liver cancer and she was only given 4 months to live – that was 9 years ago. She endured chemotherapy, operations, etc. I myself am now recuperating from cancer treatment.
Our hospital experiences here in New Zealand and in England were the opposite to that shown in this film. Contacts with numerous cancer patients in the USA, Canada, Australia and elsewhere confirm that the nurses, doctors and other hospital staff (especially in the oncology field) are very sensitive, caring, thoughtful professionals.
But of course the negative portrayal of the hospital staff (save for the nurse towards the latter part of the film) is most likely deliberate, in that it is likely the cancer patient’s PERCEPTION of how they are. And of course she is the cold intellectual, the dry academic without friends or family. [nz man\

The scene of McDonald and Thompson laughing over the origin of the word ‘soporific,’ followed immediately by a discussion of salvation anxiety per John Donne is mastery; provoking personal reflection on the thoughts of life, meaning, death, simultaneously; the highest achievement of any art form. Bravo. [rhmad]

Emma Thompson’s performance is powerful and masterful; I can’t remember a better acting job ever. She simply takes one’s breath away–literally; at the end, I was almost afraid to breathe. I sat silent and rapt, as though holding before me a piece of fine crystal, crystal so fragile that it might shatter if I spoke aloud. I wanted to whisper my sentiments at least, but all words seemed profane. [MetaLark]

I found the film’s treatment of the hospital staff quite unfair. I have gone through 7 rounds of chemo myself and never encountered the kind of apathy, rudeness and icy reserve that the film depicts. It seems to me that the story might not have worked without these cartoonish foils but it grates on me nonetheless. Reality is the opposite. [smprescott-1]

The dialogue (and monologue) is amusing, minimalistic but never too little, and is always sufficient to the scene. There is plenty of irony, wry humor, and understated insight; and yet the film, stark as it is, is abundantly human and, in places, even sweet.
At the height of the grinding sorrow that Thompson so skillfully brings us into, a startling scene between her old academic mentor is a loving act of redemption, shared by them both.
As an additional note, the surprising appearance of Christopher Lloyd in this film, as the research oncologist, provides a perfect foil for Vivian’s role as a patient and as an academician. Lloyd’s performance is convincing, and yet it contains just enough of eccentricity and kindness to make his character’s disinterested role entirely sympathetic. [rdconger]

I had the incredible privilege to see the stage presentation of W;t (the original title’s spelling) starring Judith Light (of “Who’s the Boss” fame) and thought it incredible. After seeing it, I hoped to one day see it again as a teleplay or feature film.
When I saw the ads on HBO for the performance of Wit with Emma Thompson, I had my doubts. I was afraid they would not be able to live up to the brilliant script. That they would somehow “ruin” it with added characters, backstories, subplots and the lot.
I’m happy to report that the HBO adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Margaret Edson is true to form. [Tim.NYC]

A friend gave me a copy of the play’s script. I was stunned. A day or two later I rented and then quickly purchased the DVD. I am a physician with boards in internal medicine and psychiatry who has spent 35 years caring for the elderly and dying in hospital and hospice settings. This movie crystallizes those years of experience.
Six years ago I invited the ten medical students in my history taking group to view the film together in a setting away from the school. I have since repeated this twice yearly with each of the small groups under my charge. I made one big mistake the first year. After the movie ended I turned on the lights while the credits were running, oblivious to the sniffing and outright weeping on the part of the freshman medical students. Since then I’ve permitted the credits to run completely before turning on the lights. There is generally a delay of up to five minutes before any of them are able to say anything.
The student response has been uniform. Gratitude for having seen the film, awe of the realities of the profession they have chosen to enter and appreciation for the chance to come to a deeper understanding of their own selves and motivations for entering medical school.
Eileen Atkins is absolutely superb as Evelyn Ashford, PhD. Her scenes are brief but they bring the deeply religious underpinnings of the film to the fore. Her first scene, in which she recites the final stanza of Donne’s Holy Sonnett X, (a scene which gave the movie its title) contrasts with the tender love in Vivian’s hospital room. Her reciting of the poetry is astonishing. It was not until the sixth or so viewing (I’ve lost count) that I realized her parting words, “May the angels lead you to Paradise. . . ” were the English translation of In Paradisum from the Roman Catholic funeral liturgy. That was one time when my tears joined the students.

Anyone working in medicine; students, residents, nurses and nursing students, aides and so on, should watch this movie. I generally used the class the day following the viewing for a discussion of the movie, the bedside manner of the docs, nurses, techs and so on as well as what feelings the movie stirred in them. The conversations have been memorable. [frjacksmd]