Wit, a movie


DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee 
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so, 
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow, 
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.

From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee, 
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow, 
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe, 
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie. 
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men, 
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell, 
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well, 
And better then thy stroake; why swell'st thou then; 
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally, 
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.
—John Donne (1572-1631)

This film, adapted from a play by actress Emma Thompson and director Mike Nichols, portrays a woman's journey from advanced ovarian cancer diagnosis through the subsequent, grueling 8-month treatment using experimental chemotherapy. However it's more a monologue/meditation on her life—how everything important to her up to the point of illness is reduced to a most unphilosophical, scientific, quantitative analysis of her anatomy—fairly existential, really, considering the core of the movie is John Donne's metaphysical poetry.   Emma Thompson (as the patient) is wry, sardonic, ironic, dryly amusing, and despairing.  She is heartbreaking as the objectified clinical trial subject.
This is not for the faint of heart.  It may be the most realistic, and poetically conceived, film depicting cancer out anywhere.  It's certainly a unique treatment, one I took to quite readily.  It drove home the reality of dying, and how painful it may be—physically and intellectually.  It takes place largely in present tense, with a few flashbacks, but very little rumination on relationships, possessions, external day-to-day life.  It has a roundabout way of presenting one of its points, which is kindness.
I admire the tone of this film—it's spiritual (not religious), stoic, rigorous, and not sugar-coated.  It may be slow and spare to most viewers—I, unsurprisingly, was gripped.  At some point, I may be where the character, Dr. Vivian Bearing, might be.  There are so many patients, the most revered 17th-century metaphysical poetry scholar doesn't stand a chance at being remembered except for her record-breaking ability to consume the full dose of chemo which ultimately kills her anyway. And in the end…well…one can only hope one gets a dignified end.
I love that someone made this film, and made it so well.  I don't have the facility to describe it well or to do it justice, critically.  I wish more people would see it.   

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