Showing 531 - 540 of 3279 annotations

Annotated by:
Schilling, Carol

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Extraordinary Measures, based on events in the life of John Crowley and his family, dramatizes the father's quest to find a cure for Pompe disease, a relatively rare genetic condition that afflicts two of his three children.  The quest brings into play three powerful, often competing human motives:  a father's love for his children, a scientist's pursuit of knowledge and recognition, and a corporation's mandate for profits.  Crowley (Brendan Fraser), an energetic marketing executive, and his wife Aileen (Keri Russell) are told that their children Megan (Meredith Droeger), age eight, and Patrick (Diego Velazquez), age six, have reached the upper limits of their life expectancies.

When Megan, an affectionate, playful, and clear-sighted child, is rushed to the hospital with symptomatic heart and respiratory failure, a young physician empathically encourages the parents to think of their only daughter's immanent death as a "blessing" that will end her suffering.  However, Megan survives.  "So I guess you could say we dodged that blessing," Crowley echoes back to the doctor.  Seeing Megan's will to live reinforces John's wish to make her well, and he abruptly abandons his promising career to find a medical researcher who can reverse Pompe's effects. 

Immersing himself in medical journals and websites, John discovers the intriguing research of Robert Stonehill (Harrison Ford).  A cranky, renegade scientist who thinks to the beat of rock music blasting from a boom box, Stonehill has developed a cutting-edge theory about correcting the enzyme deficiency in the cells of people with Pompe, which gradually weakens skeletal, respiratory, and heart muscles.  However, to produce a treatment derived from his theory, he needs more funding.  John immediately creates a fund to support Pompe research, and he and Stonehill form a mutually exasperating partnership.  They lock horns with each other, venture capitalists, and finally a large genomic research corporation, Zymagen.

Despite the scientist's abrasive ways, Zymagen gives Stonehill a lab and creates employment for Crowley.  However, the two confront the company's culture of rigorous competition among its scientists and its focus on profit margins that ignore the fates of individual children.  When the Zymagen scientists develop a promising therapy, they decide to offer the treatment only to infants, who are most likely to experience benefits.  Disqualifying Crowley's children from the promising trials, this decision, combined with Crowley's obvious conflict of interest, creates the film's final obstacle.  Stonehill and the executives uncharacteristically collaborate to overcome it. 

This ending might seem implausibly neat, but it's consistent with the film's mostly evenhanded approach to the dilemmas of pursuing treatments for orphan diseases.  Toward the end, we witness even Crowley, albeit uncomfortably, reaching beyond his fatherly motives for the Pompe project and turning his argument for bringing the treatment to market from children to profits.  The longer the patients live, John assures the executives, the more treatments Zymagen will sell.  The film leaves space for viewers to ask to what extent Crowley's argument creates a fair compromise or opens an ethical quandary.  In a closing narration, the film moves beyond the fictionalized characters and plot to the real Crowley children and a tempered victory.  Yes, the Pompe treatment stopped the progression of the disease and improved Megan's and Patrick's hearts.  But it has not cured the Crowley children, and almost certainly it won't.   The treatments do, however, show more success when taken at the onset of symptoms.      

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McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) escapes work on a prison farm by feigning mental illness, but he finds himself in a far more coercive institution than the one he left behind. The other men, both sane and insane, are just like him: they hide in the locked ward from the law, their families, or the despair of their own lives.

McMurphy animates the dull monotony with fractious games, pranks, and excursions, but he encounters stiff opposition from the head nurse, Mildred Ratched (Louise Fletcher), whose system provides her with pills and electroshock to maintain control. When the nurse discovers that McMurphy has smuggled two women into the ward, she threatens to tell the mother of young Billy (Brad Dourif). Billy commits suicide and an enraged McMurphy tries to strangle Ratched. McMurphy is lobotomized and returned to the ward only to be smothered by his friend Bromden, who then escapes.

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Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

In 1954, a United States Marshal (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his partner (Mark Ruffalo) take the ferry to Ashecliff Hospital, a forbidding asylum for the criminally insane located on Shutter Island.  Their mission is to investigate the disappearance of an inmate who has apparently escaped without a trace.  Under the supervision of the chief psychiatrist, Dr John Cawley (Ben Kingsley), they become increasingly entwined in a twisting tale of fear and suspicion.

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Mendel's Dwarf

Mawer, Simon

Last Updated: Jun-15-2010
Annotated by:
Clark, Stephanie Brown

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This novel interweaves facts about the history of genetics with compelling fictional characters and plots in two connected stories. The primary story traces the life and work of the fictional Benedict Lambert, brilliant 20th Century geneticist, and an achondroplastic dwarf; his research is to discover the gene mutation which has caused his condition. He is also the great-great-great nephew of Gregor Mendel.

The life and genetic work of Gregor Mendel comprise the second story. Intersecting with Gregor Mendel's 19th Century scientific experiments to artificially fertilize pea plants is Lambert's affair with married librarian Jean Piercey. When Jean becomes pregnant, she decides on termination after learning from Benedict that there is "a fifty-fifty change of ending up like me . . . a second Benedict, another squat and crumpled creature betrayed by mutation and the courtly dance of chromosomes . . . " (180).

By the novel's end, Mendel's work has been published, and dismissed; Benedict Lambert has discovered the location of the gene mutation which causes achondroplastic dwarfism, publishes the results in Nature, and is asked to make a presentation on "the New Eugenics". Jean regrets the abortion, and wants Benedict's child, but a ?normal" one. In an attempt to help Jean in her quest, Benedict uses his genetic knowledge, his laboratory privileges, and his sperm without the knowledge or consent of Jean's husband.

In the lab with eight of Jean's fertilized embryos Lambert must decide: "Four of the embryos are proto-Benedicts, proto-dwarf; the other four are, for want of a better word normal. How should he choose?" The results of this scientific and personal act of fertilization are unexpected and tragic.

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Annotated by:
Clark, Stephanie Brown

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

Co-authored by a Professor of English Literature and her physician husband, a Professor of Medicine, this is a readable interdisciplinary commentary on fourteen operas (19th and 20th century) in which particular diseases are represented, including mostly epidemic infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, syphilis, cholera, and AIDS. The analysis of each opera combines solid literary analysis of language and metaphors with fascinating historical information on the contemporaneous medical understandings of the diseases, and a sophisticated discussion of the social, sexual and cultural representations of these diseases.

The most persuasive chapters include "The Tubercular Heroine" in La Boheme, and La Traviata; "Syphilis, Suffering and Social Order" in Parsifal; "The Pox Revisited" in 20th century operas, Lulu and Rake’s Progress; the final chapter, "Life-and-Death Passion" compares theatrical representations of AIDS in Angels in America (see annotation) with cholera, TB, and syphilis.

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Sixty-year old Martha DeClerq cares for her mentally disabled sister, Pauline (Dora van der Groen), in a small town between Brussels and the seaside. Pauline cannot feed herself, tie her shoes, or speak in full sentences; she is stubborn, loving, occasionally mischievous, and particularly devoted to her sister, Paulette (Ann Petersen), who owns a small, tidy shop in town. Cecile (Rosemarie Bergmans), the youngest sister, lives in Brussels with a French intellectual, Albert, and has little contact with her siblings.

When Martha dies, her will stipulates that her estate be split equally between the three sisters, only if Paulette and Cecile care for Pauline themselves. They agree to share Pauline’s care. Although the sisters are fond of Pauline, their relationship with her is awkward and tentative. Initially, Paulette brings Pauline home, and they negotiate the new living arrangements with a mixture of embarrassment and kindness, frustration and delight. When the burden of caring for her sister becomes overwhelming, Pauline is deposited in Brussels at Cecile’s tiny, meticulously kept apartment. When these arrangements become unworkable, Pauline is eventually institutionalized.

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Art. Rage.Us. Is a powerful collection of works by more than 70 artists and writers with breast cancer whose creative impulse was to transform their illness into an artistic form not only as part of their own healing but also for others to learn from their experiences. The expressions are varied, from poetry recording the experience of breast imaging, breast reconstruction, or chemotherapy; to self-portraits after mastectomy; to a collage of conflicting research reports and alternative therapies; to short autobiographical prose pieces.

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The Betrayal

Dunmore, Helen

Last Updated: Jun-11-2010
Annotated by:
Mathiasen, Helle

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In this novel medicine and  politics interface, with disastrous results. The time is the early 1950s, the place Leningrad, and the Soviet leader is Josef Stalin. Andrei Mikhailovich Alekseyev is a  conscientious young pediatrician in a city hospital.  Though Andrei has been warned to be careful, he chooses to take on Gorya, a patient with osteosarcoma, the only child of Volkov, an official high in the Ministry for State Security. Dr. Brodskaya, a Jewish woman surgeon, performs a biopsy and recommends amputation above the knee. Andrei recommends that she perform the surgery. But Gorya develops lung cancer. Brodskaya applies for a transfer to Yerevan, well aware that Volkov will take revenge if the boy doesn't improve, but Andrei decides to stay in Leningrad.

He lives a spartan existence with his wife, Anna, and Anna's younger brother, 16. They bicycle out to their country dacha to fish and  harvest fruits and vegetables. Suddenly, a phone call to his home tells Andrei he is suspended from his medical practice. The police arrest Brodskaya. Shortly thereafter, in the night, Andrei hears police  boots on the stairs. The officers raid Andrei's and Anna's home, breaking furniture, emptying pickle jars into the sink, and confiscating their English dictionary. They send Andrei to Lubyanka prison in Moscow, where he is tortured to get him to sign a confession. Andrei reflects on his situation: "If he dies here, he'll die alone. The last faces he will see will be the guards' faces. Outside, he would never have believed that three initials scratched into a piece of soap [from the shared lavatory] could be so precious. In here, to know that another prisoner has taken the risk of trying to communicate brings a kind of hope"(262). He forces himself not to think about his pregnant wife, instead naming the muscles of the hand, or bone after bone of the human skeleton.

Finally, he is confronted with Volkov who tells Andrei Comrade Stalin has begun a purge of doctors because doctors have been killing communist leaders: "We are uncovering an international conspiracy of Zionists working as tools of the Americans, who directed these criminal murderers and saboteurs" (277). Volkov tells Andrei the Jewish Dr. Brodskaya has ‘suffered a heart attack', that is, she has been executed. Volkov accuses Andrei of betraying his trust by amputating his boy's leg, an operation that did no good, as the boy is now dying of cancer. Volkov dismisses Andrei and goes to visit his son who is comatose. Then he shoots himself in a dark Moscow street. Andrei is sent to the Gulag for ten years.

Anna has moved to safety at their dacha with her brother, Kolya. There she gives birth to her daughter and names her Nadezhda. In March 1953, Stalin's death is announced. Beria, head of the NKVD, announces an amnesty of Gulag prisoners serving shorter sentences. Beria sets up an investigation into the Doctors' Plot and exonerates those doctors. In the following years, thousands of prisoners make their way back to the Soviet Union - one of them is Andrei.

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Phenomenal Woman

Angelou, Maya

Last Updated: Jun-08-2010
Annotated by:
Terry, James

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

In four proud stanzas, the poet reveals her self-confidence, her graceful rhythm and style, and the inner strength of her femininity. Rather than fashion-magazine beauty, she exults in things like "the stride of my step" or "the swing in my waist "or "the ride of my breasts". In the final stanza she asserts, "When you see me passing / It ought to make you proud." Each stanza closes with the refrain: "I’m a woman / Phenomenally. / Phenomenal woman, / That’s me."

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Annotated by:
Mathiasen, Helle

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: History

Summary:

The two parts of this work investigate judicial punishments in imperial China as well as 18th and 19th century  Western reactions to and obsession with  Chinese methods of torture and with the Chinese method of public execution called death by a thousand cuts (lingchi). The authors present their interdisciplinary study as a "cross-cultural hermeneutics" (245), concluding that this use of torture and tormented death in China is not special but forms part of a global pattern of state-sponsored cruel and inhumane punishments recorded over time.

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