The devoted, and antagonistic, bond between a dramatic, charismatic widow (Shirley MacLaine) and her quietly rebellious daughter (Debra Winger) is the focal point of this film's exploration of a range of human relationships and their changes over time and under various pressures, including that of serious illness. The major focus of the last part of the film is the illness and death of the daughter from cancer and its impact on her mother, her husband and children, and their immediate circle of friends and lovers.


Terms of Endearment shares with films Beaches, Steel Magnolias, and One True Thing the popular status of melodramatic "chick flick." Its accessible and emotionally engaging plot gives us glimpses of how a close-knit group of people responds to the serious illness of one of its members, covering such central issues as communication gaps between doctors and patients and ill persons and well ones, despite good intentions on both sides; the challenge of "putting one's affairs in order" in the face of probable death, and communicating with children about the death of a parent; and the importance of a social support system that extends beyond the immediate family of the ill person.

Several memorable scenes make excellent teaching tools. Two scenes address the "unmentionable" status of a cancer diagnosis and the potential humor in bringing cancer out in the open. "Give My Daughter the Shot!" dramatizes the problem of pain control during terminal illness. Having watched her daughter suffer through the wait for the next administration of pain medication and reach the awaited hour without getting any relief, the mother's visit to the nurse's station shows how the family experience of illness has pushed her beyond her normal conventions of behavior and propriety.

The scene is a productive spur for discussions of pain management policies and behaviors, "opiophobia," hospice care, and the need for better ways to help overburdened healthcare professionals meeting the needs of the dying. The emphasis on the illness narrative is substantially greater in the film than in Larry McMurtry's 1975 novel on which James Brooks's screenplay was based.


Based on the 1975 novel by Larry McMurtry. James L. Brooks wrote the Oscar award-winning screenplay. Other Oscar awards were for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (MacLaine), and Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Nicholson).

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