Total Recall

Total Recall: Malice and Medicine

Exploring the mal of medical practice.

by | November 28, 2007 | Comments

Imagine what it might be like if you needed surgery.
 You’re more than a little nervous about the whole idea.  In fact when you think
about it, you’ll admit you’re frankly terrified by the whole idea.  What if
something goes wrong?  What if the doctors make a mistake?  And what if you
don’t wake up after the surgery?   Or worse yet, what if you wake up during
the procedure?

One of the scarier stories about medical mishaps in the
last few years is about a phenomenon called “anesthetic awareness.” Patients
talk about actually being awake and aware throughout an entire procedure and
feeling every sensation that the anesthetic is supposed to suppress, while being
completely unable to move or communicate with the doctors.  That’s the basic
premise of this week’s Awake,
starring
Hayden Christensen
and
Jessica Alba
A man with a heart problem (Christensen) goes in for a transplant, but wakes up
during the procedure, yet totally unable to move.  And as if that wasn’t bad
enough, he hears his own doctor discussing plans to kill him.  Talk about adding
insult to injury.

Considering the level of trust that we as a society put in
healthcare professionals, the concept of putting a doctor in a malicious light
can be a very effective tool for a thriller.  Some folks are pretty squeamish
about needles and scalpels anyway, and when those tools are used to
intentionally inflict pain, it can be horrific. Some filmmakers have gone for
the easy scare with throwaway slashers like
Dr. Giggles
(17
percent) and The
Dentist
(0 percent), while even the
Saws
have some scary
medical overtones.  And then there’s that horrific scene in
Marathon Man
(77
percent), which did for dentists what Jaws did for trips to the beach. 

But some films, like
Coma
,
Dirty Pretty
Things
, and
The Constant
Gardener
take the very concept of health care, pick it apart, and play
with our feelings of trust and hope.  That can be just as disturbing as anything
you’ll see in the goriest slasher films.

1978’s
Coma
(75 percent) is
one of
Michael Crichton
‘s earliest directing efforts.  Fresh off the success of
Westworld
, Crichton
used his own experience as a doctor to adapt Robin Cook’s novel about a dark
conspiracy in a Boston hospital. 
Genevieve
Bujold
stars as a young resident who gets a little too curious about why
so many patients are coming out of surgery in comas.  Unfortunately, it looks
like every other doctor on staff (Michael
Douglas
,
Richard Widmark
, and
Rip Torn) may be
in on the plot, and the film gets increasingly more paranoid as time goes by. 
Bujold eventually discovers that the hospital is in the business of harvesting
organs from certain patients, and she narrowly avoids losing her own.


Michael Crichton’s Coma



Dirty Pretty
Things
(94 percent) isn’t so much about a doctor who is evil, so
much as it’s about a doctor who may have to do evil things. 
Chiwetel
Ejiofor
plays Okwe, a Nigerian doctor who has illegally immigrated to
London.  He can’t practice in England because of his status, so he works a
variety of menial jobs to survive, and treats other illegal immigrants for extra
money.  While working as a hotel porter, he discovers a human heart, and his
quest to discover where it came from leads him to a dirty business of human
organs being traded for immigration papers, all while trying to stay out of
sight of immigration authorities.  It’s a frightening look at what it must be
like to live between the cracks of society, and how even someone with Okwe’s
training and morals is driven to extremes in order to survive.


Chiwetel Ejiofor and Audrey Tautou in Dirty Pretty Things

In
The Constant
Gardener
(84 percent)
Ralph Fiennes
stars as a low-level British bureaucrat whose wife (Rachel
Weisz
) was killed on a mercy mission in Africa.  As Fiennes investigates, it
at first seems like his wife may have been having an affair, but then he
discovers that she had been investigating the activities of a large,
multinational drug company.  Details of illegal testing, conspiracy and
government corruption come to light, and we learn that the businesses that make
medicine can be just as ruthless as any third world warlord.


A scene from The Constant Gardener

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