Showing 221 - 230 of 257 annotations contributed by Duffin, Jacalyn

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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The Reconstruction

Casper, Claudia

Last Updated: Feb-08-1999
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Margaret is a sculptor whose detached and unaffectionate physician-husband has just exited their marriage. Depressed, she is in dire need of work to survive and to cover the costs of urgently needed dental work. She gladly accepts a museum commission to recreate a life-sized likeness of Lucy, the Australopithecus afarensis hominid.

The plan is to reconstruct the body using casts of the fossil bones and to depict a single moment in Lucy's past, as captured by the fossilized Laetoli footprints. Made by a hominid pair, the prehistoric footprints show how the smaller creature--Lucy--hesitated in her unknown journey 3.6 million years ago.

As Margaret reassembles her ancestor and situates her plausibly in that mysterious moment, she rediscovers her own animal body, its senses, needs, and beauty--and she begins to reassemble her life.

In the end, she appears to find love and joy with a musician whom she first encounters on a purely physical basis. Yet she is comfortable with an ambiguous future.

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Spin Dry

Hollingshead, Greg

Last Updated: Feb-08-1999
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Rachel is married to passive Leon who is utterly dependent on her care and organizational skills. They live in a vast, blanc-mange of a suburb where Rachel constantly looses her way while driving home from work. One night, she seeks direction from Wilkes. A strange recluse, he is obsessed with his teenage memory of the lost "girl on the bus" and leads a support group for agoraphobics.

Through contact with Wilkes, Leon gradually grows more independent and finds himself a job. Rachel becomes obsessed with the search for the meaning of "Harry," a mystery man who recurs in her husband's dreams and begins to take over her thoughts. She consults a psychologist, Alex Silver, who soon has Rachel enrolled in a study with two other women. Silver uses dream-deprivation with the goal of enhancing insight about her marriage, her life, and her friends.

Cameo appearances of three depressive, mid-life siblings, Dick, Jane, and Sally, with their dog, Spot, and cat, Puff, emphasize that life in modern suburbia can be a pathology in itself. In Jane, Wilkes finds his lost girl on the bus. Rachel dumps Leon and finds happiness with the agoraphobic developer of the aptly named "Arcadia Centre," where expense, space, light, greenery, and intimacy are employed unstintingly to create a non-pathogenic space for human collectivity.

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The Sensualist

Hodgson, Barbara

Last Updated: Jan-25-1999
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Helen Martin is an expert on medical art. She travels by train through Europe--Vienna, Prague, and Munich--looking for her journalist husband who has vanished for a longer time than usual. Their marriage is childless and flat. On the train, she awakens to temporary but surreal changes in her body--her breasts are enormous, her thighs huge. She meets her alter ego, Rosa, an obese and aging woman doctor, and original owner of the sizable breasts and thighs.

Rosa’s gift of a strange book-like box, containing images from Vesalius, bones, vials, leads her to many other people, including a blind intellectual, a philosophical train conductor, and a soon-to-be-murdered museum curator. These people add objects to the box, while removing others and awakening her dormant senses and identity in the process.

Helen learns that her husband disappeared while researching a story about woodblocks from the great 1543 anatomical atlas by Andreas Vesalius. The woodblocks are believed to have been destroyed in the allied bombing of Munich in World War II, but Helen suspects some have survived. She picks up the work where he left it. The rediscovery of her husband--temporarily at home in Vancouver and irritated not to find her there--comes as an anti-climax. Helen realizes she does not want him any more and boards another train to we know not where.

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Docteur Laennec

Blanchar, Pierre; Cloche, Maurice

Last Updated: Jan-25-1999
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

The austere and homesick Breton doctor, René T.H. Laennec (1781-1826) (Pierre Blanchar) and his religious friend, G.L. Bayle (1774-1816) are caring for the hundreds of patients dying of epidemic tuberculosis in the Necker Hospital of Paris. They conduct autopsies on the dead, but cannot predict the findings before the patients' demise, nor can they offer any treatment.

Laennec's sister, Marie-Anne, arrives from Brittany with news of their brother's death from tuberculosis. He confesses his despair over this devastating scourge to his friend, but quickly realizes that Bayle too is doomed. A distant cousin, the widow Jacquemine Guichard Argou, becomes Laennec's housekeeper and companion in philanthropic work for the sick after he is able to reassure her about her health; she engages the widow of Bayle in the same enterprise.

One day in 1816, Laennec is invited by urchins to hear to the scratching of a pin transmitted through the length of a wooden beam. He is thereby inspired to fashion a paper tube to listen to the chests of his patients. With Jacquemine at his side, he joyously announces that he can hear sounds from inside the chest. Feverish research ensues as he links the chests sounds of the dying to the findings at autopsy.

He turns his wooden, cylindrical stethoscopes on a lathe in his apartment, publishes his findings, and marries Argou. Fame and notoriety follow, as Laennec is able to distinguish fatal disease from minor illness and to predict the need for operations; however, he is ridiculed by jealous colleagues. Suffering now himself, Laennec consults his friend Pierre Louis, who tells him that he has tuberculosis. In the final scene, he returns to his native Brittany only to collapse on the stairs of his beloved home and die.

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