Mar 14

Director: Mike Nicholls.  Actors: Emma Thompson, Audra McDonald. John Woodward Christopher Lloyd. 2001. Running time: 105 minutes.

Brilliant middle-aged professor Vivian Bearing, a teacher of formidable reputation, specialist in the poetry of the 17th century religious poet John Donne, is told that she has ovarian cancer at tertiary stage. Her world falls apart.  She has to confront her loneliness and despair alone. Her independence is gone.  She turns into an experimental object in the hands of the doctors who deliver aggressive chemotherapy for her.  She had been a demanding teacher, a challenge to her students. Her intellectual prowess and knowledge do not help her face the reality. She is forced to reflect on herself and discover that she had missed her humanity all along and is now much like her students whom she had looked down upon. The young intern who attends to her treats her only as a case for research.  Not only is she the victim of her disease, but also the demeaning indignities meted out casually by the medical system. Her only solace is provided by two people—her attendant nurse Susan, who empathizes with her and makes her feel loved, and her former professor. Susan’s care and concern provides consolation to Vivian and restores her sense of human dignity. The nurse also speaks the truth of the situation—that she is dying. It only makes Vivian Bearing feel relieved! In her dying moments she is visited by her aged mentor, former professor who reads out a bedtime story to the dying professor like a mother reading to her child in bed. Vivian cries overwhelmed by the love that she had perhaps never experienced before.  Wit and intellect aren’t the things that you need when you are dying. The film turns out to be a powerful reflection on the questions of human mortality, dignity, relationships and care-giving in times of severe personal crises—lessons for all those who wish to live meaningful lives. The movie helps us understand the priority in health care: It is not an industry or about medical experiments; it is about human beings who need consolation and spiritual support in the face of suffering, a lesson for all care-givers.

The Killing Fields
Director: Roland Joffé. Cast: Sam Waterston, Haing S. Ngor, John Malkovich, Julian Sands, Craig T. Nelson, Spalding Gray, Graham Kennedy, Katherine Krapum Chey, Oliver Pierpaoli. 1984. Running time: 143 minutes.

This multiple awards winner is about the man-made tragedy of the killing fields of Cambodia under the heartless socialist regime of Pol Pot around 1980 A film adaptation of The Death and Life of Dith Pran by The New York Times reporter Sydney Schanberg, it traces the history of Schanberg’s experience of the Pol Pot days and of his friendship with one of its victims, Ditch Pram and his family.  As a correspondent, Schanberg went to cover the events in Cambodia when the Vietnam War was raging. Schanberg is helped by his Cambodian journalist,  Dith Pran. On the very day of his arrival in Phnom Penh, Schanberg learns of the indiscriminate bombing of Cambodian civilians by Americans. The US Army and the media try to gloss over this. Soon the country passes into the hands of the Khmer Rouge rebels, welcomed enthusiastically by the people. The ugly truth becomes evident when the Khmer start slave labor camps and death squads intended to “re-educate” the people and turn the country into a crude agrarian socialist state. Educated people are hunted out. Foreigners are evicted.  Shchanberg and his colleagues narrowly escape execution thanks to Pran’s help. Schanberg helps Pran’s family escape. But Pran does not manage to escape. Schanberg is unable to contact Pran for many years. His relentless campaign to trace Pran fails. Schanberg gets a Pulitzer Prize for his book.

Captured and tortured for being friendly to the Americans, Pran survives the  atrocities with his courage and shrewdness. He escapes and makes a dangerous journey through the jungles barely dodging his would-be executioners. On the way he is witness to the bone heaps of massacred Cambodians in the Valley of Death, the muddy “killing fields.” The Red cross camp on the Thailand border facilitates his escape. He reunites with his family and Schanberg in America. When Schanberg  apologizes to him he graciously replies “There’s nothing to forgive, Sydney, nothing.” The Cambodian revolution continued for nearly a decade more, claiming the lives of about three million people in the notorious killing fields.

Dr Gigy Joseph

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