12 August 2011 | frjacksjmd
Astonishing movie and superb teaching film
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.
This is a movie that is not to be missed. It is tragic that it was made for television by HBO rather than given general theatrical release. Many fewer people have seen it is a result.