Friday, November 27, 2009

Wit, with Emma Thompson

I had no idea of the ride this movie would take me on when I slid it into the DVD last night. Wit, with Emma Thompson, is a brilliant rendition of her character's treatment of stage IV ovarian metastatic cancer, from the detached delivery of the diagnosis by her doctor in his office to the final ending scenes of her journey through modern medical science. I have known doctors like this, smug in their knowledge, flanked by a cohort of white-coated residents. I generally hope to avoid these types.

My friend Heather is currently undergoing chemotherapy, essentially a somewhat violent method of dealing with a violent intruder to the body: cancer. So that made this movie initially difficult to watch, but I wanted to learn, to know. This movie excels in narrating the journey that Dr. Bearing (her character, a renowned and tough professor whose emphasis is the metaphysical poetry of John Donne) takes from cerebral and abstract depictions of the struggle of life and death to the concrete and palpable illustrations of a patient who struggles with with her own failings, of issues of mortality. And chemo. And kindness.

I was thrown for a loop, as Dave will attest, struggling to process what I'd seen. I had just written my friend a somewhat light-hearted letter after she described to me the physical ravages of her first week of chemo. I tried to be empathetic and understanding because I'm keenly interested in her. But after seeing this movie, I wondered how I could be a better support to her--it's much different when a person might have physical discomfort recovering from a surgical procedure vs. having physical discomfort by choice--choosing the chemo to bring on symptoms of pain because the end result of ridding the body of cancer is the goal, the sought-after prize.

One of the best scenes (there were many) in the movie is the interchange of the younger Dr. Bearing with her mentor. This graduate advisor does figure in at the end as well, and is played with exceptional delicacy by Eileen Atkins. Her impatience with the use of a semi-colon rather than a comma in Donne's famous work Death Be Not Proud, is instructive.


barbara said...

SDS and I saw it some time ago. Your description is very accurate. We were very moved by it and had similar reactions that you did. I hesitated to recommend it as you don't know what people are going through either themselves or someone close to them. Emma Thompson does such a good job with her character and all else pertaining to the whole situation.

Alice said...

OK, so i saw this movie a few years ago...and totally BALLED the entire time. OH and that SONG! Arvo Part I think it is...gut wrenching. I watched it again soon after my Dad had died...don't know why.