Political Film Society - Newsletter #34 - February 1, 1999

February 1, 1999


Patch Adams, At First Sight, and Hilary and Jackie are among the most profound recently released films. All three provide important insights about how stress adversely affects health and are based on true stories.

Patch Adams begins in a mental institution, where the protagonist (played by Robin Williams) realizes that much sickness is rooted in one’s lack of perspective on life, and humor can thus provide curative healing powers. He then enrolls in medical school to bring his newly found wisdom into practice. However, the medical establishment favors keeping an impersonal distance between doctor and patient, a practice that appears absurd to Adams. In much of the film he brings humor to patients at a hospital attached to the medical school, thus incurring the wrath of a particular professor of medicine who is more interested in maintaining an authoritarian posture than in healing patients. Adams persists, founds a storefront clinic in the hills of West Virginia, and gets his medical degree. As the film closes, titles inform us that Adams is still seeking funds to build a permanent facility at the site. His method of personalizing health care comes at a time when, in pursuing lower costs by any means necessary, health maintenance organizations (HMOs) are moving toward even more depersonalization, so we should not be surprised if HMOs end up treating more chronic illnesses and not containing costs after all. MH

At First Sight tells the story of Shirl Jennings, who became blind when afflicted at age 3 with polio, meningitis, and cat-scratch fever. Shirl (played by Val Kilmer), nevertheless, appears to have adjusted happily to life as a blind person, and he enjoys the profession of masseur. In the film, a busy architect (played by Mira Sorvino) from New York City is charmed by his serenity while she is at a health resort upstate, though in real life he first gave her a massage at the YMCA in DeKalb Country near Atlanta. In the film it is love at first touch (though in real life, love dawned twenty years later after she divorced her husband). Realizing that she has fallen in love with Shirl, she makes what may be a mistake in trying to change Shirl by suggesting that new technologies can restore sight to the blind, and he decides out of love and hope to undergo an operation that would make medical history by removing cataracts from his otherwise healthy retinas. The operation, performed in 1991, is a success, but Shirl finds himself even more confused than before because he cannot immediately decode the visual images before him. Through therapy, he learns to decode the images, and he enjoys regaining his sight. However, he soon develops pneumonia, and for the second time his eyesight leaves him. He then reverts to his former happy self, marries his sweetheart, while showing no regret over losing vision again. The film shows that the serenity of a disabled person is the knowledge that there are always loving people to help and appears to caution us about urging a disabled person to seek an impossible cure when love itself is the cure for so many ills. MH

Hilary and Jackie is the story of two sisters who were pushed by parents to become child prodigies—Hilary du Pré in playing the flute, Jacqueline du Pré as a cellist. During an early life devoted to music, however, neither child reached maturity, and they lacked any identity apart from their musical personas, so they bonded to provide a refuge of happiness by caring for each other. Hilary strikes out on her own by marrying an admirer and giving up any ambition in the field of music. Suddenly, Jackie no longer has ready access to her sister’s support, and a menage à trois is not the answer. Jackie then finds love with conductor Daniel Barenboim and soon embarks on a musical tour of Europe; however, not mature enough to handle the isolation from her sister, she becomes disoriented. The stress brings out a case of multiple sclerosis, and her condition deteriorates badly until her sister returns to comfort her, albeit too late, as the world is robbed of a musical virtuoso. The film reminds us of the story in the film Shine (1996), wherein another child prodigy tries so hard to please his parents that he becomes disabled. Whereas Patch Adams sought to heal by removing stress from medical patients, and Shirl Jennings developed a stress-free accommodation to his disability, we learn that the pressures on child prodigies seem to have overwhelmed them, and thus Hilary and Jackie has a critical lesson about childrearing that goes far beyond the story. MH

Patch Adams was released in 1998 and was not nominated for a Political Film Society award. At First Sight and Hilary and Jackie were released in Los Angeles in 1999 but have not been nominated for awards so far this year. Political Film Society awards are for films that raise political consciousness in four categories—DEMOCRACY, EXPOSÉ, HUMAN RIGHTS, and PEACE. To nominate a film, click here.

The Political Film Society only allows five nominees per category each year. Consequently, members can now vote to select the best five of the seven films of 1998 pre-nominated for an award for promoting political consciousness of the desirability of settling conflicts peacefully.
The seven films are American History X, The Boxer, Men with Guns, Regeneration, Saving Private Ryan, Savior, and The Thin Red Line. The deadline is February 5. Results of the balloting and final ballots for all categories will be sent to members by February 15.

DEMOCRACY: Enemy of the State, Four Days in September, Primary Colors, The Siege, Wag the Dog
EXPOSÉ: Bulworth, A Civil Action, Four Days in September, Regeneration
HUMAN RIGHTS: A Civil Action, Enemy of the State, The Siege, Wilde
PEACE: The Boxer, Regeneration, Saving Private Ryan, Savior