on illness movies

  Long story short:  In 2005 I had a brain tumor. Through 2 brain surgeries and some advanced radiation treatment and an abundance of luck (including the health insurance to treat it) I dodged the worst outcome. This is a good thing and I am grateful daily. Despite the threat of death now living in the rearview mirror the repercussions of the experience exist alongside me. I am altered in my outlook, my social interactions, my relationships, my depression, my anxiety, my isolation. I anticipate the worst-case scenario in every benign event. I see the black pulse of oblivion inside everything. (Jeez, that last sentence makes me sound like a tenth-grader who writes bad poetry. Wait, I did that.)

  For the above reasons I am unable to watch or take seriously most filmed enterprise about illness (so I probably won't see the popular one playing now.) Almost without fail* I see fiction, artifice, manufacture, and cheap design aimed at cheaper emotional response. I sense the gears of clunky devices creaking under the floorboard of the narrative. I feel proprietary about it - which is probably short-sighted since we are all on a freight train chugging toward oblivion and finality (There's that 10th grader again.) In the same way that a white director probably shouldn't direct a movie about slavery you probably shouldn't make a movie about terminal illness unless you have direct experience - as patient or caregiver. Because as skilled as you may be at writing or framing or cutting or blocking you can only cheat at showing a replica of the black emotional inner core undergirding the whole thing.**  You can only film events.

  You can film a man laying in a hospital bed holding his wife's hand after he's had his first brain surgery. You can film their faces as someone from Transportation arrives at 11 PM with a wheelchair to take him away for an unexpected MRI. You can push in on her as he is wheeled away. You can show her walking to the restroom to sob while he's silent in the hush of the descending elevator. You can show him being inserted into the machine while she makes her way to the deserted parking garage and starts the car, heading home for the night. You can cut to an hour later, him alone in his hospital bed, her alone at home, both of them wide awake, the moon through the vertical blinds.
   But these are all only event-based, only suggestive, only tiny approximations of the roiling fear, rippling through them both, because the surprise nature of the MRI must indicate something bad looms on the periphery, threatening to consume them, that things are in fact worse than they're willing to admit, that all the positivity they forced each other to maintain for weeks up to the surgery was meaningless, that the top of the dark box of unspoken possible futures resting between them unacknowledged is slowly unfolding on its own accord, that shadows are seeping out, into the corners of the room, across the floors, into the air, slowly constricting their breath and their ability to speak. It is coming they both think. But neither can say it out loud to the other. It is coming. 

This is harder to capture with a camera.

(note: some additional thoughts found here)

artifact, january 2005

*i liked The Big C, in part b/c Laura Linney is fantastic and I love Cries and Whispers because Bergman is peerless. There's probably a couple others that escape me at present.

**Or wait, is this protective ownership just another marker of my experience? Or is it valid? Can't an artist write/make anything about anything? As long as its emotionally authentic? It's all pretend so who cares, right? I don't know the answer, I'm asking.

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