A renowned professor is forced to reassess her life when she is diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer.A renowned professor is forced to reassess her life when she is diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer.A renowned professor is forced to reassess her life when she is diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer.
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.
- Mar 24, 2001