Med students! This counts as studying!
As someone who is in a near-constant state of being buried under a pile of medical journals, I started out trying to come up with precise and descriptive inclusion/exclusion criteria to create a pool of eligibles for my list of Marvellous Medical Movies. Then I realised this is not a systematic review and is, in fact, a student mag listicle, and I can include and exclude whatever I want, and isn’t that freeing? I decided to simply choose films that have totally engrossed me in their different worlds. I love good storytelling for its unrivalled ability to make you empathise with even the most unlikely people, both fictional and non-fictional. I hope that one of these will spark your interest enough to seek it out yourself!
The Farewell (2019)
dir. Lulu Wang
Based on writer-director Lulu Wang’s real life experience, this film centres around a family brought together by a grandmother’s terminal illness but strained by cultural differences. Chinese-American protagonist Billi feels wrong about keeping her Nai Nai (grandmother) in the dark about her own illness, while her Chinese family want to bear the burden of knowing the diagnosis on Nai Nai’s behalf. The Farewell is a touching, well-crafted portrayal of family bonds and clashing cultural views on illness and death. Awkwafina received a lot of praise for her lead performance as Billi but I also want to mention that Zhao Shu-zhen as Nai Nai and Jiang Yongbo as Billi’s uncle were total scene-stealers.
A heart wrenching ethical dilemma.
dir. William Fairman and Max Gogarty
Available in full-length on YouTube, this harrowing documentary is about the phenomenon of chemsex, which involves casual sex in combination with drug use that has risen as a trend largely in the gay community in recent decades. You might be concerned about the issue being shown in a sensational, exploitative way, since the film does unflinchingly portray sex and addiction. However, Chemsex is ultimately full of compassion and hope. It centres the lived experiences of its subjects, including David Stuart, a gentle, empathetic sexual health worker whose dedication to his work comes from his own experience with chemsex and living with HIV. The film never blames the people involved; instead, it criticises drug addiction stigma, homophobia, and a slow public health response.
Unflinching in the face of a little-known health crisis.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
dir. Miloš Forman
This critically acclaimed film is full of moral ambiguity. It asks challenging questions without giving the audience straightforward answers. McMurphy, played by Jack Nicholson, is a criminal who becomes confined to a mental institution and rallies his disenfranchised fellow patients around him. Is he meant to be heroic, showing that criminal acts are acts of freedom that should never be curtailed by the state? Or is he so abhorrent to show that no matter how awful the person or the crime, what happens to patients at institutions like this should never happen to anyone? And are women the source of all evil? (Author’s note: No. But the way the film raises this question is interesting.) I love the parts of this film that are enigmatic and ripe for interpretation. You draw your own conclusions.
What is evil?
dir. Alexander Nanau
I saw this Romanian documentary at my favourite central-city cinema, Academy Cinemas (did you know they do $5 Wednesdays? Well, they do $5 Wednesdays), and I was blown away by the story. I knew nothing of the 2016 public health scandal that unmasked the sorry state of Romanian hospitals in the wake of a devastating nightclub fire that killed or injured over 200 people. The film deftly takes you through the events surrounding the public health crisis and the human impact of neglectful and incompetent healthcare and hospital policies.
The aftermath of a devastating real-life tragedy.
dir. Christopher Nolan
Christopher Nolan’s second film is a crime-thriller about a man with anterograde amnesia, a film much smaller in scale than his latest works, but no less successful in its gripping portrayal of a character’s emotional arc. It makes inventive use of narrative structure and scientific concepts, which his later work is well-known for. In Memento, protagonist Leonard Shelby uses all the tools and people at his disposal to work around his amnesia and find his wife’s killer. The film puts Leonard in the perfect situations to explore his psyche.