I recently saw the new movie, 50/50, in which the main character, Adam, a 20-something professional, is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. The film deals with his health struggles and their impact on his life. Where this movie differs, in my eyes, to almost any other film dealing with illness, is that it doesn’t martyr the characters or overdramatize key moments such as diagnosis, surgery or recovery. Instead, it realistically and sensitively (for the most part!) deals with the large and minor ways serious illness affects everyday life.
Whereas many films that deal with these issues place the disease as the patient’s central focus, most pulmonary hypertension patients realize that life does not stop just because a serious condition enters our lives. Instead we still have to maintain our relationships, negotiate work or college and keep up some form of normal routine.
For me, the hospital scenes were particularly reminiscent of my own experiences. Diagnosis is not always the “time standing still” doom-laden moment typically depicted on screen. Often it is a phrase casually thrown out by a doctor and only registers with time and research on the topic. Just as Adam did, I once found myself googling the unfamiliar terms I’d encountered, terrified of what I found. Likewise, the emotion surrounding major surgery is typically overshadowed in reality by the practicalities of pre-surgery prep or, for family members, the hours of waiting for results.
One of the more prevalent clichés that I’ve seen in “disease” movies are the secondary characters who either unconditionally support their ill friend or family member, or show their true colors and flee at the challenge of handling such a serious situation.
Real life, for the main part, is a far more complex affair. Friends and family sometimes disappoint or may feel, at periods, overwhelmed. They remain human, not superhuman. 50/50 successfully depicts people who don’t necessarily transform due to a serious diagnosis but do adapt. The immaturity of Adam’s best friend, Kyle does not stop because Adam is sick but, in some of the movie’s most moving scenes, we see his willingness to support his condition.
Likewise, PH does not transform patients into saints! If we are lucky we use the disease as an opportunity to better ourselves and our lives. But, just like Adam, who fails to see the impact of his disease on his family, we can struggle, at times, to see beyond our own difficulties.
But, for me, the most relatable and refreshing aspect of the film is its willingness to allow humor into every situation, no matter how dark. Kyle teases Adam about his bald head or scar just as my brother teased me about my blue-ish nails or entertained me with stories in the cardiac ward. Just like the film, illness can be inspiring and moving, but also funny!
Are there any movies that remind you of your own struggles with PH?
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