John Donne and English Professor Vivian Essay

Submitted By shoram
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Emma Thompson and Mike Nichols' adaptation of Margaret Edson's intellectual anti-intellectual play "Wit," which won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize, movingly explores a tough but emotionally homeless scholar's confrontation with a life-threatening illness. At the same time, it ruthlessly deconstructs the modern medical research establishment. This excellent film is driven by Edson's sharp dialogue, Nichols' controlled direction and Thompson's riveting, dead-on portrayal of the scholar, with fine supporting performances by the other actors, including a brief appearance by playwright Harold Pinter as her father.
English Professor Vivian Bearing (Thompson) is an uncompromising authority on 17th Century English poetry, especially that of John Donne, whose Holy Sonnet X ("Death, be not proud...") figures heavily in the film, an obvious device that could be tiresome in the hands of lesser artists. At age 48, Vivian is diagnosed with Stage IV ovarian cancer by prominent physician Harvey Kelekian (Christopher Lloyd), who gets her to agree to aggressive, debilitating chemotherapy that will serve his research agenda by appealing to their common commitment to rigorous scholarly discipline. The stoic Vivian bears this therapy and degrading study by Kelekian's team, including her own former student Jason Posner (Jonathan M. Woodward). Posner is now a bright research fellow who refers to clinicians as "troglodytes" and whose bludgeoning insensitivity seems to amuse Vivian more than it pains her, at least for a while. Vivian is asked "how are you feeling today?" so frequently and mechanically that it loses all meaning, and she remarks that she's a bit sorry she won't be able to hear herself being asked the question after she has just died. She engages in piercing monologue to the camera, applying the analytical skills she honed as a scholar to her life, her condition and the health care system she confronts. This system ironically sacrifices the well-being of individual patients, not necessarily with their full consent, for the research and professional interests of the physicians who appear to control it--a way of increasing knowledge at a considerable human cost which seems familiar to Vivian. But as her condition grows worse and her fear increases, Vivian starts to question her assumptions about what matters in life.
Unlike much film and television work of recent decades, "Wit" has no interest…