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  • First of all, be advised, this is a tough film to watch; but also know that if you choose to do so, you will be rewarded with an experience that is invaluable and unforgettable, and in ways that transcend mere cinematic satisfaction. There is no mystery here, no secrets nor allegories. Indeed, the subject matter is made succinctly evident in the first words you hear, spoken by Dr. Kelekian (Christopher Lloyd) to Vivian Bearing (Emma Thompson): `You have cancer.' And so begins `Wit,' directed by Mike Nichols, a film that will claim you emotionally and take you to a place of eternal night-- a region, in fact, wherein even the most intrepid of body and spirit fear to tread. It puts you in a dark room with that thing in the closet and keeps you there; and there is no way out. And once inside, it forces you to face your worst fears, albeit vicariously, in a way that invites some serious reflection upon mortality and the profundity of life.

    Vivian Bearing is a professor of English Literature, specializing in the work of Seventeenth Century poet John Donne. Hers is a scholarly life, and she is secure with her place in it; not yet fifty, she has achieved a level of comfort with herself, as well as her work, especially in the class she teaches on Donne. With her students she is a demanding taskmaster and does not suffer fools, nor students who opt for more immediate pleasures over Donne, refusing to accept youthful zeal as an excuse for academic impropriety. In her classroom, she insists that those in attendance rise to her level; she does not stoop to conquer.

    Then, with the words of Dr. Kelekian, her world abruptly changes. At first, wrapped in intellectual armor, she finds at least some comfort and respite in her beloved Donne, but she soon finds that the pursuits of the mind, even leavened with a healthy ego, attain a diminished capacity within the environs of a ravaging disease. The eternity of the hospital affords her much time for reflection, and as her illness progresses she undergoes a change in perspectives; taking stock, she considers such things as the aloof manner she affected that served no purpose other than to distance her from her students. And she thinks about it now, not with regret, but differently; her intellectual acumen no longer separates her from her students, nor affords her a lofty perch from which she may sit in judgment. She understands, at last, that she is not so different from them after all. For as she discovers to her considerable dismay-- pain is the great equalizer.

    Written by Nichols and Thompson, the screenplay is based on the play by Margaret Edson. The story unfolds like a living diary, as Vivian addresses the viewer directly, with a descriptive narrative that leaves little to the imagination. Graphically real and unrelenting, it is a riveting chronicle that will hold you in thrall from beginning to end and beyond-- because this experience does not end when the screen goes dark; it's something that is going to be with you for a long time afterwards, so be prepared. And the reason this will linger in your memory is that it's a contemplation of a reality that is horrendous beyond imagination. This is that thing that always happens to someone else, but never to `me,' and to be put in the room with someone to whom the unthinkable has happened-- to be up close and personal with it-- is emotionally devastating. This is a true horror story beyond anything Stephen King could write, because this is `real.' What happens to Vivian Bearing is something that happens to people all the time, and there has never been a film before or since that will put you more in touch with what it feels like, from the incredulity born at the moment of diagnosis to the acceptance of the reality of it. And it has nothing to do with courage; it is not about that at all. It's about knowing that you are going to have to do this thing that you least in the whole world want to do-- and that you have no choice in the matter.

    This film is a veritable showcase for the incredible talent of Emma Thompson, who gives a performance that is so remarkable there are not enough superlatives to do it justice. Ineligible for Oscar consideration as this film was made for television (HBO), her performance nevertheless is as Oscar worthy as they come (even more impressive than her Oscar winning performance as Margaret in `Howard's End,' which was nothing less than a study in perfection). As Vivian Bearing, Thompson is absolutely mesmerizing-- you simply cannot take your eyes off of her for even a moment. There are times when you want to look away, to avert your eyes because it's just too painful to watch, but you can't. Once you begin this journey you are bound to her for better or worse. You suffer with her through the physical pain, as well as through the base indignities to which she is subjected as a matter of course by the doctors and care givers who simply do not respond to the humanity of the person in their care; a sad commentary, to be sure, but so true.

    What really marks Thompson's performance as so extraordinary, however, is the fact that as you watch the drama unfold, you forget this is an actor playing a role; rather, this is a very real person you are watching-- a person named Vivian Bearing who is dying of cancer.

    The supporting cast includes Eileen Atkins (E.M. Ashford), Audra McDonald (Susie), Jonathan M. Woodward (Jason) and Harold Pinter (Vivian's Father). An emotionally absorbing drama that redefines empathy and compassion, `Wit' will make you feel alive like never before, and thankful for each and every day that you wake up healthy. It's a film that will enrich your life. 10/10.
  • Although a sad movie with a sad ending it is absolutely wonderfully fascinating. It holds you glued to you your seat the entire time. For those who are critical, they just do't appreciate Mike Nichols and Emma Thompson's brilliance and are too affected by the subject of facing death. It is a pity that this was a telefilm. Has it been a theatrical release, it would easily have earned Emma Thompson an Oscar.

    I thought that Gorecki's 3rd Symphony in the background was a brilliant touch. Christopher Lloyd as the doctor was excellent. Emma's Teacher reading Runaway Bunny at the end was touching and meaningful. Although some people might see this movie as a downer, it is an honest and important work dealing with life, goals, cancer, relationships, . . See it.
  • "Non-abstract Meditation" may sound like a contradiction, but then this film is full of contradictions -- like life itself.

    We are given a look into life and death from the point of view of a poetry scholar who has, in turn, viewed life and death in the abstract through John Donne's poetry. She, in turn, is viewed in the abstract by a renowned doctor who views life and death as a case in a bed and by the scholar's former student who doesn't know how to communicate with patients beyond superficial catch phrases.

    This is a touching, powerfully filmed play guided by the witty, amusing, profound, and painful asides and soliloquies of the main character. Her only human contact seems to be through the compassionate nurse, the scholar's old teacher, and the audience -- the point being that we too often live our lives inside walled prisons of our own construction and then come to the end realizing that we had never lived at all.

    The movie could easily have descended into melodrama but instead is gritty, prim, and gripping in its own odd way. See this one if you can.
  • This is a wonderful, must-see film.

    Emma Thompson puts on a superb performance as Vivian Bearing (a Professor of English Literature specializing in the poetry of John Donne,) who leads us through the last months of her life in narrative style.

    Diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer, Bearing agrees to experimental treatments involving powerful doses of chemotherapy. As we see her gradually losing her fight, Thompson convincingly portrays her emotional and physical torment and pain. Audra McDonald is well cast as the compassionate nurse (Susan) assigned as Bearing's primary care giver, who tries to ensure that, in the face of the doctors' temptation to continue to use Bearing as a guinea pig for their research, she will be treated with dignity and respect in her last days. John Woodward is quite believable as a young cancer researcher (Dr. Jason Posner) who really seems to see dealing with patients as an inconvenience that takes time away from what's really important to him, and his rather emotionless and awkward interplay with Bearing suits the character perfectly; a testimony to Woodward's talent.

    This movie offers a powerful commentary on the cold and rather antiseptic environment of hospitals, in which patients are seen more as learning opportunities than people. The poetry of John Donne, interspersed throughout the movie as a source of strength for Bearing, is well used.

    There's very little to criticize about this movie. Christopher Lloyd (cast in a rare serious role as Dr. Kelekian, the doctor in charge of Bearing's case) comes across as a bit flat, but the role is a relatively small one, and this doesn't detract much from the story. I also found the flashback scenes to be a bit distracting, but these have to be seen in context: this movie is based on an original stageplay written by Margaret Edson, and these scenes would look quite natural in that environment. I also thought the movie went on about five minutes too long. The last scene to me was unnecessary. I personally would have liked to have seen the movie end with the touching visit by Bearing's former Professor. We'd been put through the ringer enough, and didn't need the troubling last few minutes. These are just minor quibbles, though, about a truly great movie.

    It's powerful, well acted, well put together. It could be disturbing to some people uncomfortable with illness and death, but it is an educational experience just to watch. I give it 9/10.
  • WIT / (2001) **** (out of four)

    By Blake French:

    "Wit" is one of the most personal stories of terminal illness that I can remember. Most of the movie takes place behind hospital doors where the film's main character is tested and treated for advanced stages of ovarian cancer-that may be the reason that it was released straight to cable TV instead of getting a much deserved theatrical release. Do not let the depressing themes stop you from viewing "Wit," it is thought-provoking, riveting, unforgettable-one of the best movies of the year.

    The film is directed by Mike Nichols (whose most memorable work is the original classic, "The Graduate"). He is at the top of his game here, vividly focused and, working for a script by himself and Emma Thompson, uses a narrative of the first person. The main character, a strict professor of poety in her upper forties named Vivian Bearing, often talks directly to the camera, incorporating a straightforward point of view as she shares her personal feelings directly. This gives the movie a personal dimension, and the soundtrack, consisting of memorable classical music, contributes to the penetrating power of this superb motion picture.

    Since the production never had a theatrical release, it will not be eligible for Academy Awards next March. That is a shame, because the work by Emma Thompson is more invigorating, emotional, and involving as anything we are likely to see this year. She delivers a performance of awe-inducing empathy, doing something many actresses would have trouble dealing with. She plays a tough individual, both physically and emotionally, but, as the movie's clear irony proves, even the strongest people have a breaking point, and when she reaches hers, she loses confidence in her past and current strengths. Thompson is heartbreaking and vivid, creating one of the most convincing and noteworthy characters in a long time.

    Christopher Lloyd plays Dr. Harvey Kelekian, the person in charge of Ms. Bearing's treatments. It is clear this man is more concerned about the results of the tests then the actual person being tested. Bearing becomes a mere guinea pig, and as she states in one of the movie's most powerful scenes, she is unbearably ill not because he has advanced stages of ovarian cancer, but because she is being treated for advanced stages of ovarian cancer. It is the actual treatments that are a threat to her health. Eileen Atkins plays a sympathetic nurse who sees Bearing as more than just a patient, but a person. Jonathan M. Woodward delivers a powerful performance as another hospital worker more interesting in numbers than people.

    "Wit" is a powerful, harrowing movie not to be missed. It aired on HBO about a week ago and will continue running for a while, until finally reaching home video. Check you local TV listing for show times, or wait for the video release. This movie has a place on my list of the top ten movies of the year, and for you to miss such an influential picture would be a crime.
  • iztokgartner-19 October 2004
    Magnificent film. Very funny no matter of the serious subject. Emma deserved the Emmy and Golden Globe. What a pity that this movie was made only for TV. Her acting is superb. And she also write the screenplay with the excellent Mike Nichols who also gave HBO Angels in America this year. The story of a college professor who has cancer and find's out that people need some personal attention in life. When Demi Moore shaved her head, we've got G.I. Jane, when Emma Thompson did the same, we've got one of the best TV movies in recent history. The story with familiar theme with no clichés and no overly emotions. Very powerful and nicely done. A real masterpiece in the simplicity.
  • rdconger6 December 2004
    So often one leaves the theater or presses re-wind with a thought taking the form of, "That was a really good film, but..." At the end of "Wit," I could not find a qualifier to complete that thought, and I still cannot. This film is a piece of perfection, tightly fitted but not contrived; dramatic without overstatement; and deeply moving without sentimentality.

    It also comprises a tour-de-force performance by Emma Thompson, an actor whose performances are almost always extraordinary -- so the fact that this one stands out says a lot.

    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.

    A wonderful film. Not -- be warned -- an easy film to watch, but decidedly worth it.
  • sarahelize16 August 2004
    This film was breathtaking, subtle, intelligent and nearly perfect. Emma Thompson was excruciatingly spectacular in her performance, absolutely sublime. I sought-out "Wit" because she was in it, but was not eager to see such a heavy film, as I usually choose lighter entertainment (I loved her in "Junior"). I feel absolutely blessed to have been seduced into seeing it by Thompson's reputation and talent. "Wit" is a masterpiece of theater and film-making. I do not cry easily and I sobbed, I don't know how anyone could not, so be prepared. But the performances were all so perfect that I felt honored to be touched by them. Every medical student, nursing student, pastoral care professional or counselor of any sort should see this film. It is a touching view into the reality of mortality.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Wit (2001)

    Dying gracefully is difficult under any circumstance, and nearly impossible without faith. Having to die in a hospital cancer ward only makes it harder, and more normal. Being smart, and rational, and so-called "strong" through it all is admirable, yet no help in the end. There is dwindling hope, and even the hospital staff is largely out for its own survival, defending statistics and research over compassion.

    This sounds horrible, and yet this is the truth for many who die in hospital. And for Vivian Bearing, a John Donne scholar of some genius, this is a test of survival and maybe, if possible, comprehension. Both will turn out to be elusive.

    Director Mike Nichols and actress Emma Thompson manage a tight masterpiece around this very depressing subject. Both are astonishing, and 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.

    Besides, Bearing, who is 90 percent of the film, there are side characters, notably a nurse (Audra McDonald) who truly understands that sliver of existential pain her patient is going through, and a series of doctors who do not. And there is Bearing's former teacher, a much older woman, and a Donne scholar, too, who understands there are more important things in life than even John Donne.

    And there is the central character of Donne himself, who pervades it all. Donne, who created a complex literature during Shakespeare's time, famously writing the Holy Sonnet X (Death, be not proud) and writing many "conceits" which were a complex way of dealing with things indirectly. Unfathomable death, of course, is more easily approached roundabout, and Donne's lyrical brilliance in the face of the impossible is exactly what Vivian Bearing thought would help her own confrontation with the end.

    Nothing survives, however. Except experience, which is held out here like a trial for those of us willing, and still alive. This is a tough tough movie to watch. It will ruin your night, but it's highly recommended, highly, as great art, as necessary pain.
  • 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 understated 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.
  • 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.
  • Wit (2001) (TV), directed by Mike Nichols, is a film that depends for its power on the acting ability of its star. Fortunately, this movie stars Emma Thompson, who is always outstanding and is superb in this role. None of us know how we will respond when we are near death. However, few of us are in the situation in which Thompson's character finds herself. With her caustic wit and scholarly aloofness, Professor Vivian Bearing has cut herself off from friends, students, and colleagues. When she learns she has terminal cancer, she finds herself alone in the world.

    This moving film benefits from the strong performance of Ms. Thompson, as well as an excellent portrayal by Audra McDonald of a nurse who recognizes that medical personnel can't always cure, but they can always comfort.

    This is a grim movie, with somewhat hackneyed dialog spoken by the other supporting characters. However, the plot is so riveting, and the acting by Thompson and McDonald is so good, that this is definitely a film worth seeking out.
  • The movie paints a vivid picture of a hospital where confronting a patient's death is second to experiments.

    Vivian is an 'experiment' dying alone. I can still recall the relief on the face of my mother when I brought up her imminent death. She was afraid of making ME fearful. I was privileged to share my mother's dying. She shared moments of regret, painful happenings and joyful events. It was one of the best things I have done as a human being.

    Vivian is clearly relieved to 'know the score' when Susie tells her that medicine will not save her. Susie gives the dying Vivian, medicine of compassion. She touches her and thereby acknowledges her as a human being.

    Enter the professor who leads Vivian to the moment of death. There is no need for intellectual poetry or sparring. Instead, the professor lies on the death bed holding and supporting her friend. Tears fall from Vivian's eyes, the professor merely confirms the difficulty. The children's story is read and the professor offers her opinion - It is an allegory of a soul. We do not know if Vivian supports this statement. We only know that she dies with the knowledge that she is loved.

    "Out of the mouth of babes," is a scriptural quote that confirms the wit of simplicity. I, personally, needed the bunny story. However, many children's stories have incisive clues to live's mysteries.

    I am puzzled about the negative comments. Have any of these writers witnessed dying? Why do so many people negate the virtues of kindness, sympathy, touch, love, etc with weakness or by a wave of his/her hand dismiss it as 'boring.' This was not a boring movie. If you saw it this way, you missed the point. Come back, say 10-20 years from now and review it again.
  • A female professor--wry, canny, tough, fragile--goes through a wrenching medical experience fighting ovarian cancer. Made-for-cable movie that looks great on TV, but would it also play successfully on the big screen? In this case, yes, but television--being a far more intimate medium--certainly allows the viewer a bird's-eye glimpse into this story about sickness. Just because "Wit" isn't on the movie screen doesn't mean it's not an all-encompassing, breathtaking drama. 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). The pacing of the movie is gentle but not doddering; this isn't a melodrama about pity, nor is it a medical expose or a squeamish thing with lots of needles. It is a quietly absorbing, exceptionally well-rounded chapter of a woman's life, and that woman--Emma Thompson, doing precise and brilliant work--is an embraceable subject. We let her into our hearts, making the finale that much more emotional.
  • Sneaky_Pete_Repeat18 December 2002
    There are many comments already entered here that very expertly dissect and appraise this remarkable piece of film, so alternatively, I would simply like to express my love for the work, about the impact it had on me and the roller-coaster of emotions I experienced during its screening.

    I feel I must start by underlining that the principal reason for this production having such a profound effect on me was the breathtaking performance of Emma Thompson. I don't recall ever having seen a piece of televisual drama portrayed so perfectly as this. So convincing was she, that it was easy to lose sight of the fact that this was in fact a portrayal of a terminally ill woman and not of a real life account.

    Throughout the film I found that I was repeatedly asking questions of myself, in respect of the abhorrent circumstances of Vivian Bearing, particularly geared towards how I believed I would handle such a terrible situation. Not only that but how would I handle the fatal disease in Vivian's position i.e. no family or friends to comfort and care for you.

    Vivian's almost entirely independent, personal fight against the inevitable was as challenging as it was distressing and it brings home to the viewer how much is taken for granted, by so many of us, on a day to day, friends, a sense of perspective and good health.

    Again, I cannot eulogise Thompson's performance enough...a truly exceptional picture.

  • Bob Pr.14 August 2011
    Warning: Spoilers
    Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play "Wit" (aka "W,t"), it was adapted and rewritten for HBO film by Mike Nichols and Emma Thompson.

    Prof. Vivian Bearing (Thompson) specializes in John Donne's 17th century metaphysical poetry. (Donne wrote the famous "No man is an island unto himself, Everyman is a part of the continent, a piece of the main..." which I've long loved and understand; but Donne's "Holy Sonnets" are unfamiliar and considerably beyond me;--no matter, this film remains great!.) She's a renowned scholar and popular teacher but yet quite demanding (& without compassion for her students). After Prof. Bearing is diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer, she agrees to participate in a research trial of a medicinal course. During the movie, she frequently breaks the "fourth wall," often speaking directly to the camera (we, the audience) as she wrestles with the meaning of her life (& death) and her growing awareness of her mortality and the importance of compassion in life.

    A compelling movie to watch, it's sad (tissues mandatory) but also very uplifting at the end. The background music is excellent and appropriate in both mood and title (it includes Arvo Part's "Spiegle im Spiegle" ("Mirror in Mirror") & Charles Ives "Unanswered Question.")

    IMDb 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.

    My rating of this Emma Thompson performance: >15+/10.
  • flaiky22 December 2006
    This movie is brilliant, but incredibly hard to watch. The entire last thirty minutes I had a lump wedged in my throat, and I couldn't help but cry on three or four occasions. The pain of Thompson's character feels unbearably real. Throughout the film you develop a true understanding of the character, Vivian, and seeing this strong, independent, successful woman reduced to such weakness and vulnerability is very difficult. Yet the trajectory is conducted with such dignity - completely redundant of self-pity. It is incredibly moving.

    At the heart of it this is a film about human life, scratched to the very bare surface and faced with a number of important and terrifying questions. Definitely worth watching, but be prepared for an extremely difficult 90 minutes.
  • It may be a cliché phrase, but "tour de force" is apt as applied to Emma Thompson's performance in WIT. As literature professor Vivian Bearing, who is coping as best she can with terminal ovarian cancer, Thompson is by turns hilarious, heartbreaking and everything in between, pretty much running the gamut of emotions. At one point, portraying stark terror like nobody I've ever seen on the screen, Thompson had me thinking she might be the greatest living actor in the world. My throat closes up just thinking about it as I write this.

    Let it also be noted, though, that she is matched step-for-step by Jonathan M. Woodward, who, as a young internist, gives a nuanced, inventive and utterly convincing performance that sneaks up on you before you realize it. Audra McDonald, as a compassionate nurse, is right there with them, and has her moments to shine, as does Eileen Atkins as Vivian's eloquent mentor.

    Equally noteworthy is Mike Nichols sure-footed direction, as is his and Thompson's screen adaptation of Margaret Edson's play. WIT is wrenching and rewarding; thoroughly bravura work from all involved.
  • Emma Thompson creates an outstanding portrayal of a woman with stage 4 ovarian cancer who endures horrific side effects of extremely aggressive cancer treatment that is still in its research stage. The movie emphasizes the way patients can so easily become a nuisance to healthcare workers and that many times they serve only as guinea pigs to physicians, especially those involved in medical research. Amazingly, of all healthcare workers portrayed in this exceptionally superb movie, one nurse ("Susie") is depicted in a way that should make the ANA proud. Susie acts as the patient's advocate and treats her with kindness, caring, and sees her as a human being who experiences very real effects of her illness and the disease process, the treatment she receives, and the situation she is in (facing a horrific disease and the possibility of death). This movie will make anyone reevaluate the healthcare system and what its goals should be.
  • Watch it by yourself because if you've ever experienced a tragedy, this movie will move you to cry, cry, cry. If you're a man, you certainly may not want to let anyone see that, and if you're a woman, well, don't women get embarrassed when they cry in front of people?

    I am very tired of the stereotypical Hollywood movie. This was not one of them. See it because it's different. This is a real movie.

    I always wonder how can life be so beautiful and so tragic at the same time. If you're a real person, this same question has been puzzling you also. This movie doesn't answer the question, but shows you others can think about this mystery also. It shows you that you are not alone. Emma Thompson, Mike Nichols, Su Lin Looi, and the rest of the cast did an outstanding job.

    The whole cast did an outstanding job in this movie, and just because I didn't specifically mention Jonathan M. Woodward or Eileen Atkins, it doesn't mean their performance was not equal to everyone else.

    If you've been fortunate or young enough not to have experienced a broken heart, if you are fortunate or strong enough not to have any regrets, and if and cannot understand this movie, well, count your blessings. Many of us have regrets. There is nothing more humbling than suffering, grief, and misfortune to cause one to look back on ones mistakes in judgment with regret. The bottom line is that this movie is made for the ones who can not only see the beauty, but who can also see the tragedy that constantly surrounds us; tragedies that we will all experience at some point in our lives.

    Sure I cried watching this movie. I cried for all the times that I didn't. I cried because I understood this movie. I'm glad I was alone.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    (Spoilers) In the first scene Vivian Bearing (Emma Thompson) is told she has stage IV ovarian cancer. From that point the film traces her experience to the end, in intimate detail. If you are a cancer survivor, or have been through this experience with a loved one, then I would think that this will be too painful to watch. For others this is probably going to be as close to the experience as you will get until it comes to your life.

    Vivian is a professor specializing in the poetry of John Donne; appropriately Donne's "Death be not proud" poem figures in the movie. One of the things I got from seeing this is how thinking about death, reading great poetry on the subject, listening to philosophers philosophize doesn't really help a whole lot when faced with the ultimate truth. In the final moments Vivian is a scared, lonely person who simply seeks some human kindness. She does not get this kindness from her doctors--no, they are more interested in her as the object of an experiment to see how well she can withstand intense chemotherapy, so that they can write an article about it Vivian speculates. Vivian does get some understanding and kindness from her nurse Susie (Audra McDonald in a fine performance).

    Vivian is a brilliant, tough woman who most eloquently articulates her experiences, with some wit. The presentation has innovative touches, like placing the ailing Bearing in her classroom teaching in her hospital gown. Some of the most effective scenes have Vivian talking directly to the camera. One scene I found particularly revealing was when Vivian talked about how slowly time moved and said directly to us, "If this were reality, I would just lie here in silence for fifteen minutes while you sat there looking at me." A particularly moving scene had Vivian's adviser, professor Ashford, visit her on her deathbed. When Ashford said to Vivian, "It's a windy day," I was struck by the total gap between those who are still living their daily lives and those who are dying.

    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.

    Thompson gives a spectacularly good performance. I have to believe that this was not an easy role and it took no small amount of courage for her to commit to it.
  • A witty, sometimes funny, heart wrenching account of a woman's journey through Ovarian Cancer. Certain to make one weep; it is probably the most accurate and poignant visualization of the subject I have ever seen. Anyone wrestling with this dread disease and, for that matter, looking death in the eye, can gain some comfort from this superb Mike Nichols/Emma Thompson film. For that matter; it should be essential viewing for all health professionals; doctors and nurses alike. Emma Thompson is superb. Funny, acerbic, the summation of all human frailty; a woman who is completely in charge of her life until one day... I am surprised that I have never heard of it until tonight when I caught it, quite by accident on Bravo. Bravo. Bravo. Bravo.
  • I have no clue how this film ended up in my Netflix queue, but I'm SO glad it did! I'm currently in nursing school (in middle age), and lots of people ask me why I decided to become a nurse. It's always been hard to give a single answer. From now on however, my answer will be to watch this film.

    Emma Thompson's performance and the absolutely magnificent script together provide a powerful and moving portrayal of what it's like to be on the receiving end of "care" in the American health care system. While it's a little over-dramatized in certain areas (if there were a resident in real life like the one in the film, he should be drawn & quartered), but the overall effect is nothing short of amazing. I cried and cried. The film touches on just about every issue that people dealing with terminal disease face, and Emma Thompson's performance is (typically) splendid.

    If you haven't seen it, see this film (and call your attorney for a living will and durable medical power of attorney - please!).

  • inluvwithLeo12 September 2005
    Warning: Spoilers
    There are two moments in this movie that brings it all home to you.

    In one, Vivien Bearing, a professor of John Donne's metaphysical poetry, is dying of cancer. As she lays on her bed, she remembers the moment that words truly began to mean something in her life. She watches from her hospital bed, as we watch with her, as a small girl reads Beatrix Potter stories to her father. When she reaches a word she doesn't understand (soporific), her father explains it to her (makes you sleepy). After a moment in which he gives her examples of how to use the word, she turns the page. And, lo and behold, the picture shows two sleeping bunnies. As the little girl sits up excitedly to show her father, suddenly, it's Vivien herself, acting out her childhood memory.

    In another, her old professor comes to visit as she's dying. Not really knowing what else to do, the professor pulls out a children's book featuring rabbits that she had bought that day for her grandchild, and gently reads Vivien to sleep.

    For one to whom words are as much the breath of life as they are to Vivien Bearing, these moments are breathtaking. They could have been handled as mawkish soap opera drivel. Instead, Mike Nichols and Emma Thompson handle them so delicately that you can see how words not only ushered her into life, spiritually speaking, but how they also escorted her out.

  • Just a brief correction: Eileen Atkins plays Thompson's former professor (Evelyn 'E.M.' Ashford). The sympathetic nurse (Susie Monahan) is played by Audra McDonald in a very nuanced portrayal of a dedicated health care worker who brings a touch of caring back into the sterile medical research equation.

    This movie has many peaks and valleys for the viewer to experience along with the protagonist. I roared with laughter when, waiting uncomfortably in the stirrups for her former student to give her a gynecological exam, she opines that in retrospect she "should have given him an A." The scene in which the magnificent Atkins comes to Thompson's bedside and reads her a story had me bawling like a baby.

    Having seen Thompson's stage portrayal of the Fool in King Lear many years ago, I was already convinced she was one of the best actresses of our age. This gritty movie only confirms my original feelings.

    This is available on DVD. Do see it.
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