Showing 1 - 10 of 264 Performing Arts annotations

The Center Cannot Hold

Wells, Kenneth

Last Updated: Jul-31-2018
Annotated by:
Glass, Guy

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Theater

Genre: Theater

Summary:

This is an opera based on Elyn R. Saks’s best-selling book The Center Cannot Hold.  Subtitled “My Journey Through Madness,” the memoir recounts the author’s struggle with schizophrenia.  Here, Saks has collaborated with composer/psychiatrist Kenneth B. Wells on the opera’s libretto.  

The librettists utilize the device of having three different singers portray Elyn.  One manifestation, the “Lady of the Charts,” represents her when psychotic.  The others are Elyn as a law student and the present day Professor Saks as a law professor.  Another dramatic device involves the use of a chorus to embody the protagonist’s schizophrenic delusions.  At the height of her paranoia, as Elyn sings Beethoven’s 5th Symphony in an effort to keep herself together, the chorus recalls the Symphony’s opening notes by singing “Elyn must die.”  

The opera opens with Elyn as Professor Saks reflecting on her childhood. Even then there were signs of the illness that, to quote a famous poem by William Butler Yeats, ensures “the center cannot hold” in Elyn’s life. During the first act, Elyn, a Yale law student, becomes psychotic in front of her friends and is hospitalized. In a Connecticut hospital she is put in restraints and treated by various mental health professionals. She imagines she hears demons threatening to kill her.  Elyn’s diagnosis and condition overwhelm her parents, who have been called by the hospital.  

In the second act, Elyn works to reintegrate her fragmented mind.  She is determined to get back to law school.  She is released from the hospital. She finds an antipsychotic medication, with fewer side effects, that she can live with. She resolves to devote her career to mental health law.  At the conclusion of the opera, Elyn anticipates graduation.  She has been instrumental in winning a class action suit against the use of restraints in psychiatric patients.  Her parents, friends and doctors proclaim their pride in her accomplishments.

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Amour

Haneke, Michael

Last Updated: Jul-10-2018
Annotated by:
Teagarden, J. Russell

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

The film enters late into the lives of Anne and Georges, a Parisian couple apparently in their 80s, apparently long married, and apparently retired music teachers. Maybe they still teach music, and maybe they still play, based on the important place a grand piano is given in the grand living room of their apartment. Their daughter, Eva, is a working musician and is married to one as well. When Georges and Anne sit together in the living room, the controls to the stereo system are never more than an arm’s length away. This family is serious about music; they love music. But, their love of music is not the love of the movie title, “Amour.” Amour is the love between Anne and Georges, and the forms this love takes. 

We first see the amour of Georges and Anne in their quotidian activities. They eat breakfast together at the small table in the cramped kitchen. They sit across from one another—or one of them lies down on the adjacent couch—and read to each other from the paper or talk about various subjects, like music. They have been doing this for decades, and probably would for decades more, but that isn’t likely, and we see why soon. 

While having their breakfast one morning, Anne becomes unresponsive to Georges while looking him straight in the eye. She eventually comes to and goes about her business as if nothing happened and doesn’t know what Georges is talking about when he describes the incident. She probably had a transient ischemic attack—a warning that a stroke may be coming—and as a result, had surgery to clear an occlusion from her carotid artery to prevent a stroke from actually occurring. However, something goes wrong in the hospital and Anne suffers a stroke there nevertheless. She returns home with some paralysis on her right side. The form of amour changes. Now the quotidian activities involve Georges administering care to Anne: he sees to her toilet, washes her hair, cuts her food, reads her newspaper articles, and helps her walk from one spot to another in the apartment when he’s not pushing her in a wheelchair. During a moment when Georges and Anne are in their customary chairs in the living room, Georges says to her, “I’m so pleased to have you back.” To which Anne responds, “Please never take me back to the hospital, promise?” 

But when Anne has another stroke, Georges takes her back to the hospital. She returns home having lost most of her ability to move at all, she can only eat or drink with considerable difficulty even with assistance, she can’t communicate verbally to any extent, and she wets herself. Georges adds feeding her and exercising her arms and legs to his established routines of bathing her, reading to her, and telling her stories. Amour has taken the shape of getting her through the days with great effort and later with help from nurses. 
 

Anne wants no more of her life despite Georges’ efforts and pleas. His daughter argues with him about the care her mother needs. The nurses can’t administer care to Anne in a way he expects. Anne does not want her daughter to see her as she is. She cries out for her own mother. She won’t take water or food. She is in pain. Georges is left with only options that test the extreme boundaries of amour.

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Farinelli and The King

van Kampen, Claire

Last Updated: Mar-21-2018
Annotated by:
Teagarden, J. Russell

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Theater

Genre: Theater

Summary:

Anyone walking through a theater district over the past several decades and even centuries ago would likely run into a mad king—Lear, Richard III, George III, Scar. As of 2015, there’s a new mad king to be found in theater districts—King Philippe of Spain in Farinelli and the King.  

The play opens with King Philippe of Spain sitting up in his bed talking to a goldfish swimming around in its bowl trying to avoid the hook at the end of the King’s little fishing pole: 


I was touched by the confidence with which you speak to me of your affairs; the cordiality of your offer to redress mine; the tender anxiety for my health—but I should tell you in the strictest confidence you understand…shh…here the body cares very little for the affairs of the mind. (Act 1, Scene 1)   

As the King’s mental illness progresses from this point and becomes a concern of his court, his wife, Queen Isabella is sent away so that the King cannot physically harm her as he had before. But, what’s to be done for him? It’s the year 1737. While attending an opera in London, the Queen thinks she may have discovered just what the King needs—the renowned castrato Farinelli: 


Then…he began. A long note, held; I must think it was beyond a minute. A swooping, soaring sound and the notes were above the tree-tops, bird-like, unimaginable. When the aria finished just now I couldn’t help my tears; I was unable to move; I just stared at the stage, where he had been…I couldn’t believe what I had seen and heard…I felt something had profoundly changed within me. …and then, —I knew…That I must hope somehow to bring Farinelli to Spain with me. (Act 1, Scene 3)    


The Queen finds a way to bring Farinelli back to Spain, and Farinelli begins to sooth the mad King with his voice from the heavens. The King becomes calmer yet when he moves with the Queen and Farinelli to a house in the forest, where he cuts a hole in the trees so he can hear the “hidden notes” of the spheres above. The King tells Farinelli, “you must sing to me; in the long hours of dark, when my mind is screaming in the silence, then that is when I need you to sing to me.” (Act 2, Scene 5)  

The Queen was sure Farinelli’s singing was effective:

And they say it was Farinelli that helped to restore the health of the King of Spain—just by hearing this wonderful singing voice the King rose out of his depression and wanted to live again! It was the only thing the King could bear in the end. The sound of Farinelli’s voice. (Act 2, Scene 5)  

In Farinelli’s own and immodest assessment: “He is decidedly better because of me, and in his lonely life I have become a song he now depends on.” (Act 2, Scene 1) And, in making his clinical assessment, the King’s doctor was “of the opinion that the King’s illness has turned." (Act 1, Scene 4)  

The utopian existence comes to an end when the King is called back to Madrid to take on an impending English invasion. He would not be seen again.  

This fanciful tale is not so fanciful; it’s drawn from the historical King Philippe of Spain. His grandfather, King Louis XIV of France placed him there, and there he reigned for almost 50 years. Indeed he was mad, and indeed his wife the Queen brought the renowned castrato Farinelli back to Spain where he served the King for 9 years and then the son who succeeded him until this son’s death. From there Farinelli retired to the Italian countryside instead of returning to the public stages in Europe.  

The current NY production  could not replicate Farinelli’s voice exactly now that castrati are not to be found anymore; however, a countertenor was able to produce a swooping and soaring sound. Though Farinelli’s voice could not be replicated perfectly, the staging of the play was replicated as the audience of the day would have seen it in the mid 1700s. The lighting was supplied by candlelight from chandeliers and sconces that were part of the sets. The musicians supporting Farinelli’s performances were also situated on the stage with him. And, as the theaters were arranged then, seats for the audience were available on both sides of the stage. 

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The Black Monk

Tibaldo-Bongiorno, Marylou

Last Updated: Feb-20-2018
Annotated by:
Glass, Guy

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

As the film opens, George Anderson tells us he has been advised to treat his anxiety by going “to some island to rest.” We see him arrive by ferry in Staten Island where he has arranged to spend several weeks at the beautiful home of his father’s best friend.  There, he renews his friendship with the friend’s daughter, Maggie.  We discover that George, a filmmaker, dropped out of medical school, and that Maggie is now a doctor.  We learn from the start that, though they have not seen each other for ten years, there is a longstanding mutual romantic attraction.   

One day, while walking around the house’s lush gardens, George suddenly and improbably sees a monk.  We are made to understand this is not the first time this has occurred, although at this stage George still recognizes it as a “mirage.” However, when the monk foretells a “grand brilliant future” for George and entrusts him with a divine mission, George is inspired.  He becomes obsessed with attending church, and we learn he has not been sleeping.  In his religious fervor he calls Maggie “disgusting” because she performs abortions.
 

Maggie becomes aware that something is not quite right.  We learn too that George enlisted in the army and resigned under suspicious circumstances. Other details about his past are mysterious.  The relationship between George and Maggie intensifies. Meanwhile, a friend warns Maggie that she has witnessed George saying peculiar things about a monk and smiling inappropriately.  Finally, in Maggie’s bedroom, George has a full-fledged psychotic episode as he hallucinates the monk in front of her.  She accuses him of “becoming schizophrenic,” and begs him to see a psychiatrist.  He responds by accusing her of trying to drain him of his inspiration, packs up his belongings, and, despite her entreaties, leaves.    

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Annotated by:
Schilling, Carol

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video — Secondary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

The opening of the documentary Fixed: The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement is meant to startle. A young woman (disabled performance artist Sue Austin) in a motorized wheelchair fitted with transparent plastic fins gracefully glides underwater around seascapes of coral and populations of tropical fish. The scene dislodges expectations about what wheelchairs can do and where they belong. It creates what for many are unlikely associations among disability, wonder, joy, freedom, and beauty. Watching Austin incites questions about what this languid and dreamy scene might have to do with human enhancement, which more predictably brings to mind dazzling mechanical, chemical, or genetic interventions that surpass the ordinariness of a wheelchair and extend human capacities. But this gentle scene opens the way for the film’s conversations about the ethics and meanings of human enhancement that emphasize perspectives by people with disabilities.  

Regan Brashear’s film features interviews with and footage of people living with disabilities as they move in varied ways through their environments—home, workplace, airport, therapy lab, city street. Photographs, news footage, and performances by mixed-ability dance companies complement their stories. We also hear from a transhumanist, academicians, and activists. Together they express a wider range of views about human enhancement than seems possible in an hour-long film.  

Often contrastive views are paired or clustered. For instance, double amputee Hugh Herr, Director of MIT’s Biomechtronics Group, brags that his carbon-fiber and other prosthetic legs will outperform the biological legs of aging peers. His lab develops robotic limbs controlled by biofeedback, and he intends to end disability through mechanical technologies. Gregor Wolbring, a biochemist and bioethics scholar who was born without legs, regards himself as a version of normal and rejects being fixed. “I’m happy the way I am!” he exuberantly proclaims. Rather than strive for normalcy through restorative technology, Wolbring urges acceptance of imperfection.  

Altogether, the interviewees raise questions about how to respond to differences among human bodies: focus on corrections toward achieving a concept of “normal”? accept diversity? extend human potential? The interviews call out underlying assumptions about disability that influence our answers. Do we assume that disability is an aberration that should be erased? A condition located in individual bodies? A condition brought about by unaccommodating social and built environments? Or, as disabled journalist John Hockenberry proposes, “a part of the human story”?

Fixed
also asks what the social and ethical consequences of pursuing enhancements might be. Do they equalize opportunity? Do they misplace priorities by channeling attention and resources away from basic health care and ordinary, essential technologies, such as reliable, affordable wheelchairs? Are biological, chemical, and mechanical enhancements indispensible opportunities to extend human experience, as transhumanist James Hughes claims? Do we have an ethical responsibility to enhance, whether to correct or extend?
                                                                                              
Hockenberry mentions that we already enhance. Think of eyeglasses, telescopes, hearing aids. People with disabilities, he points out, are typically the first adopters of technologies, such as computer-brain interfaces, that are destined for wider use. Archival film footage of warfare during this discussion reminds us what many of those uses have been. Should we worry, he asks, about using people with disabilities as research subjects? Or should we say with recently paralyzed Fernanda Castelo, who tests an exoskeleton that braces her body as it moves her forward: “Why not”?  

Considering whether we should trust technology to create equality or treat each other equally in the presence of our differences, disability rights attorney Silvia Yee poses the film’s most vital question: “Which is the world you want to live in?” While Fixed gives a fair hearing to disparate answers, the closing image is suggestive. A woman in a motorized wheelchair offers a lift to someone struggling to push a manual chair uphill. She invites him to grasp the back of hers and they roll forward together.

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The Fall

Singh, Tarsem

Last Updated: May-04-2017
Annotated by:
Clark, Mark

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

This film focuses on the interaction between 5-year-old Alexandria and Roy, a Hollywood stuntman in the early days of film.  The two are residents of a rehabilitation hospital, and both are recovering from falls they’ve taken: he’s paralyzed from the waist down as a result of a failed stunt; she’s broken her humerus as the result of a fall she’s taken in an orange orchard.  (A child in a migrant family, she’s been tasked, at 5 years of age—presumably out of economic necessity—with climbing ladders to pick oranges.)  Having accidentally intercepted an affectionate note—Alexandria’s child-missive—meant for the kindly but preoccupied nurse Evelyn, paralyzed Roy befriends the girl and quickly wins her over by telling her the wondrous tale of a masked bandit and his companions, all of whom have been betrayed by the evil emperor Odious, and all of whom are united in their quest for vengeance against the ruler.  While Roy narrates the story, we see it take place through Alexandria’s eyes, and the characters she envisions are drawn from people in her life.  The role of the heroic masked bandit she assigns to Roy himself, blended to a poignant degree with her deceased father.  Alexandria sometimes interrupts and asks questions about or challenges the story’s development, whereupon Roy makes adjustments: it’s clear that the story is a co-constructed project.  Roy has, however, become increasingly despondent over his paralyzed condition and over the fact that his fiancée has broken off the engagement as a result of Roy’s condition.  As time goes on, Roy uses his unfolding story as a means of manipulating Alexandria to retrieve morphine from the hospital dispensary.  He tries and fails to commit suicide with the pills that Alexandria supplies.  In the process, he winds up bringing about a severe injury to the child.  Filled with remorse and guilt, Roy alters his story such that it can be a source of separation between him and the girl: it becomes cruel and violent, and suggests that the hero is a weak, inglorious imposter who deserves to die.  The anguished Alexandria protests, demanding that Roy change the story.  Roy refuses, insisting that “It’s my story.”  But Alexandria retorts, “It’s mine, too.”  And Roy relents.  The masked bandit of the story is redeemed, and Roy himself is as well.  The film closes first with Roy, Alexandria, the hospital patients and staff watching the film in which Roy’s acting had led to his accident.  As the scene approaches the point where the accident had occurred, Roy feels understandable anxiety; but the film has of course been edited.  Roy is relieved, but turns to Alexandria, in the hopes that she is not terrified.  He finds her beaming.  Then the film we are watching, The Fall, shifts to a rapid series of black-and-white footage of stunts—the effect is reminiscent of the love scenes gathered at the end of Cinema Paradiso—narrated by the marveling Alexandria.  Each clip features a person in imminent, catastrophic danger—who is then impossibly rescued at the last second by fortunate chance.  As Alexandria blows us kisses through a character who is falling backward, we are left in a state of bewildered gratitude over this strange gift of stories we human beings offer each other—stories that assure us over and over again how, confronted with the calamities we see no way of escaping, we are nonetheless saved. 

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Annotated by:
Teagarden, J. Russell

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: TV Program

Summary:

The Knick was inspired by the Knickerbocker Hospital, founded in Harlem in 1862 to serve the poor. In this 20-part TV series spread out over two seasons, the fictional Knick is somewhere in the lower half of Manhattan around 1900. The time covered during the series is not marked in any distinct way. The characters don’t age much, and although fashion and customs remain static during the series, the scope and significance of advancements that come into play were actually adopted over a longer time than the episodes cover.   

The series builds on some known history. The central character, the chief surgeon Dr. John Thackery, is modeled on a famous surgeon of the time, Dr. William Halsted, in both his surgical adventurism and in his drug addictions. The character Dr. Algernon Edwards, who is an African-American, Harvard-educated, and European-trained surgeon, is based in part on Dr. Louis T. Wright, who became the first African-American surgeon at Harlem Hospital during the first half of the 20th century.  

Storylines of human drama and folly run through the series. Among them are medical cases both ordinary and bizarre, heroic successes and catastrophic failures, loves won and lost, gilded lives and wretched existences, honor and corruption, racism and more racism. Within and around these storylines are the scientific, medical, and industrial advances of the period, as well as the social contexts that form fin de si
ècle hospital care and medical research in New York City.
 

Some of the industrial advances we see adopted by the hospital include electrification, telephone service, and electric-powered ambulances. We see that transitions to these new technologies are not without risks and catastrophes: patients and hospital staff are electrocuted, and when the ambulance batteries died -- a frequent occurrence-- many of the patients they carried died, too.

Medical advances integrated into various episodes include x-rays, electric-powered suction devices, and an inflatable balloon for intrauterine compression to stop bleeding. Thackery is a driven researcher taking on some of the big problems of the day, such as making blood transfusions safe, curing syphilis, and discovering the physiologic mechanisms of drug addiction. We see how he learns at the cost of his patients, or rather his subjects. We also glimpse movements directed at population health. For example, epidemiological methods are applied to find the source of a typhoid outbreak, which drew from the actual case of Mary Mallon (aka, Typhoid Mary). Shown juxtaposed to the advances epidemiology was then promising is the concurrent interest that was rising in eugenics and its broad application to control for unwanted groups. Research ethics and regulations were a long way off.


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States of Grace

Lipman, Mark; Cohen, Helen

Last Updated: Jan-24-2017
Annotated by:
Grogan, Katie

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

States of Grace follows Dr. Grace Dammann, a pioneering HIV/AIDS physician, as she navigates life following a catastrophic motor vehicle accident that leaves her severely physically disabled. Before the accident Grace was a devoted caregiver at work and at home. She was the co-founder of one of the first HIV/AIDS clinics for socioeconomically disadvantaged patients at San Francisco’s Laguna Honda Hospital, honored for her work by the Dalai Lama with a 2005 Unsung Heroes of Compassion Award. She was also the primary breadwinner and parent in her family with partner Nancy "Fu" Schroeder and adopted daughter Sabrina, born with cerebral palsy and HIV. During a routine commute across the Golden Gate Bridge in May 2008, Grace was struck head-on by a car that veered across the divide.  She miraculously survived—her mind intact, her body devastated. She endured a prolonged coma, innumerable surgeries, and a marathon of rehabilitation. The documentary picks up Grace’s story when she is finally discharged for good. She returns home to acclimate to a radically altered life, one where she is wheelchair-bound and dependent on others for simple tasks of daily living. The film captures the rippling effects of the accident on all dimensions of Grace’s life—personal, professional, psychological, spiritual, and economic—focusing especially on how Grace’s disability turns the family dynamic on its head. Fu becomes the primary caregiver to both Grace and Sabrina, Grace becomes a care-receiver, and as Grace describes “Sabrina’s position in the family [is] radically upgraded by the accident. She is so much more able-bodied than I am.” We witness her frustrations with the limitations of her paralyzed body and see her, at one point, arguing with Fu about her right to die if she continues to be so impaired. Some of Grace’s ultimate goals (to walk again, to dance again, to surf again) remain unattainable at the film's conclusion, but she sets and exceeds new ones. Grace “comes out” as a disabled person in medicine, returning to Laguna Honda Hospital as its first wheelchair-bound physician, where she is appointed Medical Director of the Pain Clinic. She resumes the caregiver role, but with an intimate knowledge of the lived experience of pain, suffering, and disability.

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Manchester by the Sea

Lonergan, Kenneth

Last Updated: Jan-09-2017
Annotated by:
Teagarden, J. Russell

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Lee Chandler is approaching middle age and working as a maintenance man for an apartment complex in Quincy, Massachusetts. We get a sense for his days as we watch him shovel snow from the walks, unclog toilets, fix leaks, and argue with tenants. We get a sense for his nights as we watch him at a bar drink himself into a fighting mood and then watch him fight. He returns to his sparse subterranean apartment that he shares with no one to sleep off the beer and the bruises. He’ll do it again the next day.  

Lee takes a call as he’s shoveling snow. His older brother Joe is in the hospital in Manchester. He would not get there before Joe dies. A few days later Lee finds out he’s now guardian to Joe’s teenage son Patrick. This is not a responsibility he knew about or welcomed, and one that anchors him to his hometown of Manchester. He doesn’t want to stay in Manchester. Through a series of flashbacks, we find out that it’s not the struggles that come with taking on the responsibility of a rambunctious teenager that makes him want to leave again, it’s the unspeakable tragedy he experienced there years before. He blames himself for this tragedy, as did his wife Randi, and many of the townspeople.  

Over the next few months, Lee is busy making burial arrangements for his brother, situating his nephew, and looking for work while being reminded regularly of what causes his profound suffering. He also experiences fresh assaults. One in particular is the reemergence of his now ex-wife Randi. She attends Joe’s funeral forcing him to bear the sight of her with a new husband and in the late stage of pregnancy. A little later he encounters her in town with her newborn child in a buggy. She wants to make amends for her contribution to his suffering. Lee’s response to Randi’s entreaties is gracious but lifeless, and explains how he gets through the days. He has no internal resource to muster responses to anything, good or bad. He’s hollowed out. “There’s nothin’ there,” he tells Randi.
 

We’re given no reason to expect there will ever be anything there again for the rest of Lee’s life through a conversation he has with Patrick. Lee has arranged for a family friend to adopt Patrick so that he could leave Manchester for a job in Boston. When Patrick pushes him to stay, Lee confesses: “I can’t do it. I can’t beat it. I can’t beat it.”

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Extremis

Krauss, Dan

Last Updated: Dec-05-2016
Annotated by:
Redel-Traub, Gabriel

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Extremis, a Netflix documentary directed by Dan Krauss, follows Dr. Jessica Zitter a palliative care ICU physician at Highland Hospital in Oakland, California. The documentary begins with an exasperated Dr. Zitter trying to communicate with a patient on a ventilator: “Is this about the breathing tube? You want it out?” she asks. When the patient nods in affirmation, Dr. Zitter replies, “What if you die if I take it out?” The questions confronting the physicians, patients and their loved ones get no easier over the course of the film. The documentary is propelled by a dramatic tension between its protagonists: on one side Dr. Zitter, who is compassionate but dogmatically pragmatic, on the other side the family members of patients who are driven above all by hope and faith. This tension manifests itself in palpable ways. In one particularly powerful scene, a patient’s daughter says to Dr. Zitter: “it would feel like murder to pull that life support. That’s what it would feel like to me…I feel like maybe as a doctor, you know, being as smart, and being as knowledgeable, and being inside medical journals, it can dwindle your optimism a little bit.” Dr. Zitter replies simply, “I’m just trying to help you make a decision that’s right for your Mom.”  Of course, for Dr. Zitter there does appear to be a categorically appropriate decision in all of these cases. In most of her conversations, she is transparently trying to get family members to see that there is no realistic chance of meaningful recovery for their loved ones. That is not to say that she is insensitive to the family’s wishes or the complex bioethical conundrums which arise around her. In fact, her bravery and deftness in broaching these serious and difficult topics is on full display throughout the film. 

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