Showing 211 - 220 of 251 annotations contributed by Duffin, Jacalyn

Summary:

The spoiled Long Island heiress, Judith Traherne (Bette Davis) is suffering from severe headaches and visual disturbances, which she tries to ignore in pursuit of wild parties and frenetic horse-back riding. Her friend and secretary, Ann (Geraldine Fitzgerald), and the old family doctor bring her to Dr. Frederick Steele (George Brent). Steele has just sold his neurosurgical practice and is about to catch a train to Vermont where he will devote himself to fulltime research on malignant brain tumors. He delays his departure to operate successfully on Judith's glioma.

He and his patient fall in love. But Steele learns that her disease will recur in a predictable manner: blindness followed by painless death. He and Ann conspire to hide the prognosis from Judith. A wedding is planned and the move to Vermont. But Judith uncovers the secret and flies into a rage at the treachery, breaking off the engagement.

She tries to drown her sorrow of impending doom in drink, a frivolous dalliance with a drunken suitor (Ronald Reagan), and a more serious dalliance with her horse-trainer, Michael (Humphrey Bogart). On the verge of sin with Michael, she realizes that her only hope lies in life itself, marriage and the house in Vermont. Steele conducts his laboratory research in a back shed and the couple carry on as if her death sentence did not exist.

Living a lie provides their few months of happiness, their "Dark Victory," Judith says, over the cruel promise of her death. Just as Steele is invited to New York to present his research, her vision begins to cloud and fade. She tells Ann, but keeps the news from her husband. He leaves the now blind Judith and her friend in the garden planting bulbs that will bloom in spring. She sends Ann away too, and lies down to face her romantic (but painless) end alone.

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Paradise News

Lodge, David

Last Updated: Feb-04-2000
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Atheist theologian and ex-priest, Bernard, takes a leave from his college in the grey, industrial town of Rummidge, UK, to escort his unwilling father, Jack, to Hawaii at the request of his elderly aunt, Ursula, who is dying of cancer. Bernard's domineering sister, Tess, is strongly opposed. To save on costs, they join a charter tour.

On the day of arrival, Jack is hit by a car and confined to hospital. Bernard spends many days traveling between his dad's bedside and Ursula's in an inadequate nursing home. The near-but-far separation between the aged siblings gives Bernard time and opportunity to discover their past.

The exotic, touristic "paradise" on earth and an affair with Yolande, driver of the car that struck his father, awaken Bernard to the sensual pleasures of existence. Ursula, always portrayed as the selfish black sheep, had been sexually abused as a child by her oldest brother Sean--venerated as a hero by the family for his death in the war. A lad at the time, Jack knew of the abuse.

With credible evidence and an impressive lack of self-pity, Ursula explains to Bernard that the experience ruined her marriage and her life. She wants Jack's apology. With the help of his sister and his lover, the newly secular Bernard brings about a reconciliation to the greater peace of all involved, including himself.

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Death in the Seine

Greenaway, Peter

Last Updated: Feb-04-2000
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Between April 1795 and September 1801, 306 bodies were pulled from the river Seine in Paris. A register of these deaths, indicating, sex, age, hair colour, wounds (if any) and a description of clothing (if any) was kept by two mortuary clerks, Citizen Bouille and Citizen Daude. If witnesses came forward in the days that followed, the names, occupations of the "silent guests" and the witnesses would be added together with the circumstances of the deaths. In most cases the cause of violent death was unknown, or unrecorded--be it "accident, misadventure, suicide, or murder." Bouille and Daude would not speculate.

This artistic documentary uses a male narrator and an eloquent text to present 23 out of the 306 cases: traveling clerks, hearty horsemen, children, mothers, mistresses, aged widows, and a laundress with her little daughter drowned together. These people had lived through the Revolution, the Terror and the early Consultate and it seems reasonable to wonder if the political circumstances they had experienced were somehow connected to their demise. On the other hand, the occupations--tobacco-pouch maker, carter, delivery clerk--invoke the continuity of daily life in the great city despite the political turmoil.

Each case is presented with the site and details of the discovery of the body, followed by a description of the external anatomy as the camera moves slowly and clinically upward over the naked corpse from the feet to head. The shadowy antics of the crude yet sympathetic bureaucrats Bouille and Daude appear throughout, as they retrieve bodies, wash them, label them, and arrange for the witnesses to view them with enforced respect. But we know less about Bouille and Daude than we do about their "guests."

The narrator reminds us how memory rarely survives more than three generations. Who will remember us, he asks, or these actors who lay very still? And as the register ends, the Revolutionary calendar that governed it ended too. These people who no longer exist could be said to have lived in a time that also no longer exists, because it is no longer measured.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

The writer describes her experience as a cancer patient, thrust into "the Land of the Sick" by the diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer four years earlier. Although she is not ill, the fear of mortality embedded in a diagnosis of cancer is a dragon that haunts her existence.

To cope with the dragon she relies on talismen: her doctors, personal will, and her garden peas, an emblem of everyday life and its constant renewal. The talismen create the semblance of control over her situation. She observes that "doctors and patients are accomplices in staging a kind of drama" and that the patient and her continued well-being become talismen for the doctor too.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

The first-person narrative of Catherine who is desperate for her seemingly indifferent mother’s love. Raised from infancy by grandparents following her parents’ divorce, Catherine seeks her indifferent but devout mother’s affection by emulating her saintly namesake. She mortifies her flesh in the pursuit of thinness based on an ideal of purity as self-denial and on her mother’s esthetic expectations.

The obsessive behavior extends from anorexia to willful insomnia and severe illness. At college she recovers by discovery of a happier, more direct faith. The essay begins and ends in the narrator’s later life, as she contemplates her own revulsion and pain in caring for her mother who lies dying of breast cancer.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Amy (Mira Sorvino), a New York City architect, takes a needed break at a mountain spa where she falls in love with her blind masseur, Virgil (Val Kilmer). He has congenital cataracts and retinitis pigmentosa. His older sister Jenny (Kelly McGillis) has looked after him for twenty years since their father left and their mother died. She is jealous of Amy’s place in Virgil’s life, and he is angered when Amy contacts a specialist hoping to help him see again.

At first, he resents the implication that his blindness is a problem. But he decides to leave with Amy for New York, where his cataracts are removed. When the bandages are removed he is terrified by the confusing sights that his brain cannot recognize (visual agnosia).

Virgil’s slow adjustment to vision is an exciting challenge, but it drives a wedge between him and Amy. When the retinal disease returns and he begins to go blind again, he leaves her and sets out on his own finding work at a school for blind children. The film ends with a promising moment as Amy and Virgil encounter each other in Central Park.

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Summary:

An engaging anthology of writings about illness, from over 330 sources, literary and medical, men and women, ranging from Deuteronomy and Hippocrates to Virginia Woolf and Oliver Sacks. Readable explication introduces the chapters devoted to various themes, a list of which will serve best to illustrate the scope.

1. Generalities; 2. Illnesses (greater and lesser); 3. Eyes, Ears and Teeth; 4. Doctors and Cures; 5. Hospitals and Patients; 6. Philosophers and Kings; 7. Intellectual and Spiritual Frets; 8. Strange Complaints, Mishaps, Embarrassments; 9. Imaginary, Feigned, Psychological; 10. Melancholy and Love Sickness; 11. Manias, Phobias, Fantasies, Fears; 12. Breakdown and Madness; 13. Young and Old; 14. Animals; 15. Invalids and Convalescents; 16. Short and Sharp (a collection of pithy aphorisms about illness).

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

To escape accusations of plagiarism, Swedish neurosurgeon Stig Helmer (Ernst Hugo Jaregard) has come to work at The Kingdom, a large Copenhagen hospital. He is a surgical butcher with lamentable bedside manners and utter contempt for Denmark, but he resembles his colleagues in his medical positivism and abhorrence of spiritualism. His inadequacies are easily perceived by the hospital staff and resident Dr. Hook (Soren Pilmark), but his fellow consultants celebrate his arrival and make him a member of their lodge.

The malingering spiritualist Mrs. Drusse (Kirsten Rolffes), admitted for a variety of fictitious ailments, discovers The Kingdom is haunted by a little girl murdered there a century ago by her scientist stepfather. Drusse engages the help of her son, who is an orderly, to trace the child's secret.

Tangents to the main plot involve a pathologist, who is so obsessed with obtaining research tissue that he has a cancerous liver transplanted into himself, and the psychopathic medical student son of the hospital director, whose sick sense of humor leads him to mutilate corpses in the hospital morgue. The ending is pure horror.

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Persona

Andersson, Bibi; Bergman, Ingmar; Ulman, Liv

Last Updated: Apr-09-1999
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

The film opens with a short series of images of hospitals, dead bodies, landscapes, a hand impaled by a nail, and a bespectacled young boy lying uncomfortably under a thin sheet. (The shot of an erect penis was removed for distribution outside Scandinavia.) A young nurse (Bibi Andersson) is assigned to look after a great actress, Elizabeth (Liv Ullman), who had been playing Electra to critical success. Elizabeth is completely mute, but the psychiatrists cannot detect any discrete pathology and have no diagnosis.

At first the nurse worries that the case may be too complicated for her, because of the difference in age and experience. The pair are sent to the doctor's summer cottage by the sea. The actress remains silent, but her nurse chatters endlessly, trying to draw out the patient. Eventually, in a complete reversal of psychotherapeutic roles, she is compulsively confiding her fears and intimate secrets of sexual adventures.

To her horror, she reads a letter written by Elizabeth to the psychiatrist that describes the confessions as nothing more than amusing diversions. She is angered and deliberately tries to harm Elizabeth. Then she delivers a stern accounting for her patient's silence, as a rejection of her femininity, her marriage, and especially of her son. This scene is portrayed twice--once with the camera on the nurse; once with the camera on the patient. The irritated husband comes for his wife, they return to the city, where Elizabeth's future is ambiguous. But at the completion of their relationship the nurse has grown in wisdom and confidence.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

At Christmas, 1913, the two Rappard boys and their grandmother (May Robson) bring a cake to the Brussels nursing home where the English matron, Edith Cavell (Anna Neagle), is caring for their dying mother and many small children. The prayer is for peace, but in a few short months war has spread over Europe and the oldest boy is sent to fight.

He is taken prisoner, but escapes to the nursing home because he hears that Germans are shooting prisoners. Cavell, with a network of friends including the boys' grandmother, the barge-owner Mme Moulin (ZaSu Pitts), and a dignified Countess (Edna May Oliver) help him and two hundred other wounded young men to escape into Holland and France.

By August 1915, Cavell and her friends are betrayed by a German spy and put on trial. Despite international pleas for her release or detention, she is shot at dawn on 12 October 1915. Linking nursing to religion, the priest who attends her final hours tells her, "it is God's will," while the hymn, "Abide With Me," sung in the final scene of her 1919 memorial service at Westminster Abbey, reminds viewers that she had been "help of the helpless."

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