Louis Theroux meets patients battling for their lives in LA's most famous hospital.

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Louis Theroux meets patients battling for their lives in LA's most famous hospital.

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30 March 2014 (UK)  »

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Edge of Life: A difficult film but again one that doesn't push far or hard enough, and is actually hurt by the sort of event most documentaries would kill for (SPOILERS)
5 October 2014 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

I'm not sure what about this subject makes it an LA Story (apart from Theroux now living and working there) but that aside it is still another interesting film. The subject is almost an impossible one to put yourself in, because it is essentially about the problem of having too many options of keeping people alive in the face of illnesses that will almost certainly kill them in the end. This is tough going because we do see people struggling to accept any sense of reality and, safely detached through the television screen, it is clear that there is no justification for any of it.

People describe their relatives as a 'fighter' – which is pretty much what everyone says regardless of the person; I'm sure my nearest/dearest would say the same of me despite a life of choosing the easiest paths and avoiding change and challenge at all costs! It is hard to process their belief, but I guess what else is there? Theroux doesn't bring much out of the subjects but to be fair to him I guess this is all he could do – it would have been unfair to shake them or berate them for what they are deciding. I don't extend the same to the medical staff though; the phrasing is so soft and their desire to avoid being the one to say the obvious is clear and I found it quite shocking. In one instance Louis is told someone has a chance of pretty much zero to survive, and he asks if the patient understands that since Louis himself didn't get that from what she had said – she is sure he does. This stuck with me because to me it seemed more like she offered 'comfort' and then immediately moved past it and told the patient what he would want.

This occurs several times in the film, where the delicate wording loses the meaning (someone told the treatment would stop and they would not get better, concludes they will spend the next 20 years in the bed in their current state). It is sad but it is also interesting and although he could have pushed more, Louis at least slightly nudges the idea that this is a lot of good money thrown after bad, to provide someone with a life that will clearly only be one artificially prolonged and full of pain. It is an emotive subject and although it could have had more push and investigatory work about it, it does work based on the subject.

Ironically, the film gets the sort of closure that most films like this would be overjoyed with, because it gives a high spot or counter argument to end the film on, and I say ironic because it really doesn't want or need it. Yes, one of the patients who was subject to the clearest 'he will not get better' statements to the family, actually does recover and mostly it is a distraction. The film sort of uses it to touch on the difficult calls that the Doctors have to make (basically they are playing the odds) and also on the money spent on one person (the young man who recovered had millions of dollars worth of treatment – money that probably would have been better spent on tackling the heroin problem that put him there in the first place), but it doesn't push for those particularly hard.

Ultimately it is a film that works because there are no easy answers and as much as you want to yell at the patients and families clinging to the thinnest odds, I think for most people they would be making the exact same choices because more endless rolls of the dice is better than not rolling at all. That the film doesn't even really cover why that is a problem, is another part of it not pushing or exploring the subject enough.


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