Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Medicine In Film: Wit

Wit film 2001 poster

Hi guys! Sorry for the week-long hiatus, I've been a little bit busy with failing my exams (yay). Ready for another cheery film about people dying in nasty ways? No? Well tough shit, cause that's what you're getting. The last film of this series is Wit, an film adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name starring Emma Thompson as a poetry professor who has been diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer. For those of you not in the know, ovarian cancer ain't pretty; stage IV ovarian cancer, in particular, is about as much fun as attempting to swallow live piranhas while on a broken rollercoaster, blindfolded. And the blindfold is snakes. Angry snakes.

angry snake
They're angry because you're eating their piranhas.
This movie is a little unlike our previous two in that it's less based around healthcare and actually has medicine and, as we like to call it, the "patient experience" in mind as the key focus of the film. That sounds nice though, doesn't it? Patient experience. In this case, no, no it's not.

Wit film 2001 pelvic exam scene screenshot
"Ok, and I'm just going to start inserting the piranhas now..."

Wit, to a medical student, is a complete guide on how to be the most terrible, awful doctor ever; never in my long, long years of life have I ever seen a group of medical professionals organised into such a cluster fuck of bad medical practice, poor social skills, clumsiness and general lack of humanity. There are evil exiled space mexicans who put weird cockroaches in your ear with more empathy than these doctors; everything they do serves to humiliate Vivian (Emma Thompson) or assert their dominance over their peers. All in all the message here is pretty damn clear: doctors are brutal, heartless bastards.

Wit film 2001 Dr Kelekian Christopher Lloyd
And aspiring time travellers.
The style of the film, which borrows rather liberally from it's theatre roots, very nicely reflects this kind of brutality. Soliloquies, spectacularly long takes and uncomfortable close ups make the film very uneasy to watch, which is entirely the desired effect; although particularly so for those of us who are more familiar with film as it really is quite unusual in the way it presents itself. Not quite Baz Luhrmann, but certainly weird. All in all it's an unrelenting film, both in it's content and in the techniques it uses; you could write essays on some of the themes in this thing.

Wit film 2001 childrens book rabbit scene screenshot
The rabbits represent something very profound, I'm sure.
To rave for a little longer about the filmic techniques used here, there are some sequences where Vivian relives a number of her memories; flitting between the memory, the hospital room and mixing the two together. Ugh, I love this kind of stuff. It helps that this was a TV movie (by HBO no less), but I've become so tired with the formulaic way in which movies show us things nowadays that it's refreshing to see people playing around with lesser used ideas in a film to make something that looks and feels different without then spoiling the illusion by taking the time to point it all out to us.

Wit film 2001 lecture memory scene screenshot
Unless hospital gowns are standard dress at this university and I got the totally wrong end of the stick.
Emma Thompson is wonderful too; for one she actually is bald. I mean, dude. Committed actor right there. Who cares about how good their acting is when they cut off their own head fuzz? Oh how I love mocking the shallowness of the film industry.

Srsly tho, Emma Thompson is truly astounding. I already love her (read my 3000 page slash fiction of her and Tilda Swinton's steamy road trip around Dorset. Mrawr.) but hot dayum is she on form here. The aforementioned soliloquies come from her and she stands her ground against the remorseless cinematography and excruciatingly long shots without even breaking a sweat, something I couldn't imagine many actors managing quite as well. That said, she was probably helped along to no end by her formidable experience in the theatah, dahling.

Wit film 2001 Emma Thompson Vivian Bearing bald screenshot
She might have cancer, but she can still wipe the floor with your amateur-dramatics ass.
As I said, from a medical perspective, Wit plays out like a Spot the Dog of bad medical practice, so my biggest piece of advice is probably don't watch this movie with a medical student/doctor. They'll either spend most of the run time screaming at the TV before curling up into a ball and sobbing in the corner or they'll just be as awkward as fuck. Imagine if you were a baker and you watched a movie that insinuated that all bakers are really bad at baking and kind of generally terrible people who put wheat in the gluten-free rolls just for the shits (PUN!) and giggles and tell me that you wouldn't feel awkward watching it. It's like the whole world is attacking your job and you have to just roll with the blows.

Tom Baker Doctor scarf
If you are neither a doctor nor a baker, you will never understand. If you are both,
then please explain to me the physiological nightmare that is having two hearts.
That said, the worst thing is that Wit is right. There really are doctors who will treat you like a slab of meat, who are oblivious to anything other than the collection of symptoms in front of them, who are arrogant assholes (which is kind of a cliché now) and who have absolutely no professional social skills. Nil. None. Zip. Sure, the film collates them all into one place to make a sort of Frankenstein's monster of the worst traits of a doctor imaginable, but the individual parts all exist somewhere. And therein lies the beauty of Wit; it presents, with the utmost eloquence, intelligence and humour, the harsh truths of the inelegance of death and bad treatment by medical professionals, laying it bare for the whole world to see.

Human Centipede procedure diagram
What would you get if you let Frankenstein's monster doctor create a monster?
If nothing else, Wit is an education in the leaps and bounds we still have to make in order to build a better functioning healthcare system. As a whole, though, it's also a solidly made, touching, thought-provoking and unique account of a person who's forced to face the one thing we all dread having to: our own mortality. Go, watch it, and only lynch one doctor each. We do need them, I promise.

Overall Ben Equivalence Rating

Attending the "Fitness to Practice" Hearing of Harold Shipman -
Fun for all the family! Bring popcorn.

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