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|Something the Lord Made|
Actors: Alan Rickman, Mos Def, Kyra Sedgwick, Gabrielle Union, Merritt Wever
Genres: Drama, Television, African American Cinema
(Drama) Something the Lord Made tells the emotional true story of two men who defied the rules of their time to launch a medical revolution, set against the backdrop of the Jim Crow south. Working in 1940s Baltimore on an ... more »
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Kindra K. (Onion) from SAN ANTONIO, TX
Reviewed on 9/11/2011...
0 of 2 member(s) found this review helpful.
A superb mixture of medical and human drama from HBO
Lawrance M. Bernabo | The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota | 03/05/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"For me the worst bigots are not the ones who carry shotguns and engage in lynchings. Underneath their hatred is a fear born from knowing in the marrow of their bones that they are not as good as the people they are oppressing and that on an equal playing field they will be the ones who end up on the bottom. I am always outraged more by those bigots whose racism is embodied in what they say and how they say it, as well as by the gestures they demand to keep Jim Crow in place despite the evidence of their eyes and the assumption what they see actually gets into their brains. In "Something the Lord Made," there is a moment where a white doctor at the most prestigious hospital in the country makes a point of leaving his office and go into a laboratory just to have a black man fetch food and drink. I look at such a man and wonder what he is thinking, knowing that whatever it is, it is just not right.
Racism is the subtext of "Something the Lord Made," an HBO movie that dramatizes the story first told in the "American Experience" documentary "Partners of the Heart." This is the story of Dr. Alfred Blalock, who pioneered cardiac surgery in 1944 when he and Dr. Helen Taussig developed the Blalock-Taussig technique, a surgical procedure that repaired the faulty blood vessel in the hearts of babies that was causing a lack of oxygen. This fatal birth defect turned babies a light shade of blue, resulting in their being commonly called "blue babies" (Fallot's tetralogy). The story of "Something the Lord Made" is about not only this pioneering medical work, but also the relationship between Blalock and Vivien Thomas, a lab technician. Blalock (Alan Rickman) is white and Thomas is black (Mos Def), which is why racism keeps rearing its head throughout the tale.
Blalock is a brilliant but brash physician doing pioneering work on the treatment of hemorrhagic and traumatic shock (Blalock demonstrated that surgical shock resulted primarily from the loss of blood, and therefore encouraged the use of plasma or whole-blood transfusions as treatment). Thomas has been saving his money to go to medical school but has been working as a carpenter's assistant when he gets a job sweeping and cleaning Blalock's laboratory and dog kennels (experimental techniques are developed working on dogs, once a condition comparable to what is found in humans is created). But the doctor quickly discovers that Thomas has a quick and inventive mind and the Great Depression ends Thomas' dream of going to medical school. What starts off as a relationship between master and servant (or at least boss and employee), becomes that of teacher and student. By the time Blalock moves to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and takes Thomas with him, the two have become joined at the brain. There is a delightful scene where Blalock is kicking around ideas with his new colleagues and Thomas keeps making comments and bouncing ideas off the doctor until they are involved in an intense discussion and everybody is watching dumbfounded.
Director Joseph Sargent ("Colossus: The Forbin Project," "Miss Evers' Boys") has two major stories to tell here. One is the medical story of the invention of cardiac surgery and the other is the human story of whether Vivien Thomas would ever be recognized for his invaluable assistance in that effort. Thomas does the work of a lab technician, but is paid as a janitor. He has to use the back entrance at Johns Hopkins when he comes to work and students flock to see the great Dr. Blalock assisting Thomas when operating on a dog. Even after they achieve their greatest success, there are colleagues who laugh at Blalock because he needed Thomas' help to do the impossible, their bigotry making it impossible for them to realize doing the impossible is no mean feat.
There are social victories along the way. Not so much that Blalock is finally persuaded to do something about his invaluable assistant's salary as the young doctors who come up to Thomas and ask if they can work with him in their spare time (although their accents are invariably not of the south). But Blalock is getting his picture on the cover of "Life" and the only one in the operating theater not in the group photographs are Thomas and the nurse, and there is an element of sadness that it was over a decade after Blalock died that Thomas received his overdue recognition. Was Blalock's problem that he was egotistical or that the man was so focused? The film suggests it was the latter and that the work was what mattered. Indeed, the most memorable scene in this 2004 film is when we see with our own eyes the miracle that Blalock, Thomas, Taussig, and these others wrought in 1944.
"Something the Lord Made" won the 2004 Emmy for outstanding made-for-TV movie, due in part to the marvelously understated performances by Rickman and Def. The DVD includes audio commentary by Sargent, writer Peter Silverman, and producers Robert W. Cort and Eric Hetzel. The featurette on the making of the film and historical slide show both get into some of the true story, which is worth pursuing on its own. The frail child on whom the operation was first performed died months later during a second operation. But the film does make it clear that she was very ill and a high-risk patient to begin with, who was doomed to die, and what happened at Johns Hopkins in 1944 did prove the surgical procedure worked well enough to end up saving the lives of tens of thousands of children. So there are more aspects of this fascinating story that have been left untold that you can certainly find out more about."
Great portrait of two outstanding figures in medicine
K. Corn | Indianapolis,, IN United States | 10/21/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"For once, they got it right, offering a glimpse into the drama/suspsense of the early days in heart surgery, as well as giving a revealing look at two pioneering figures in the field - one well-known (the white doctor) and the other an unsung hero (his afro-american lab assitant). Neither saccharine or unrealistic, the film offers an unflinching look at both the genius and unbridled ambition of Dr. Blaylock while countering it with the steadfast loyalty and dedication of his assistant, Vivien Taylor, destined to live in the doctor's for much of his life. This is one I am adding to my personal collection. It is simply that good."
Superb acting in a wonderfully-written film
CareCrystal | Clarkston, MI United States | 12/07/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Alan Rickman and Mos Def give superb performances in this wonderfully-written film about the triumph of intelligence and creativity over the effects of racial prejudice.
"Something The Lord Made" is the real-life story of Dr. Alfred Blalock and technician (later Dr.) Vivian Thomas, both of whom pioneered open-heart surgery in America in the mid-twentieth century.
Rickman, as Blalock, gives a flawless, charismatic portrayal of an egotistical surgeon who gains nobility of spirit while he defies (and yet is simultaneously confined by) the customs of his society. Rickman's performance is all the more impressive because he is British, and Blalock was an American from the south; nevertheless, Rickman's southern accent is natural and effortless.
Rickman brings likability and humanity to what could otherwise be an unsympathetic character; and this core humanity gives "Something The Lord Made" a depth not often seen in tales of bigotry within American society. Too often, tales of this sort delineate the bad guys from the good guys in an almost cartoonish fashion, but Rickman's Blalock is both good and bad, reflecting more accurately the reality of the times in which both characters lived.
Mos Def gives a subtle, moving and sympathetic performance as Vivian Thomas, a gifted man who is caught in the trap of prejudice and the expectations of an unenlighted society. The film clearly demonstrates that Thomas is the intellectual peer of Blalock; it is society and circumstance that for years robs Thomas of the practical opportunity to become Blalock's actual peer in terms of status. Def gives us the portrait of a man who chooses patience over reaction; through him, we feel outrage at the denial of the respect due Thomas, time and again.
The writing in this film is low-key and highly effective. Because American society has in some ways changed since the mid-twentieth century setting of this film, younger viewers may not understand the actions and choices made by Blalock and Thomas, both within this film and within real life. Nevertheless, "Something The Lord Made" gives an extremely uplifting and surprisingly accurate portrayal of life as it really existed in those times, and should be appreciated both as an historical and enlightening film."