VIVIAN BEARING IS A DISCIPLINED ENGLISH PROFESSOR WHO FINDS HER RATIONAL APPROACH TO LIVE OVERTURNED WHEN SHE IS DIAGNOSED WITH CANCER. NO LONGER A TEACHER, BUT A SUBJECT FOR OTHERS TO STUDY, VIVIAN IS ABOUT TO DISCOVER A ... more »FINE LINE BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH THAT CAN ONLY BE WALKED WITH WIT.« less
Mary L. (marymix) from NANTUCKET, MA Reviewed on 7/12/2010...
This is not a movie about laughing at death, it is a story about dying without fanfare, without heroics, without anyone noticing that you're gone. There is no escaping or glorifying death, it happens in a boring and uneventful way. The lessons to be learned are not from the main character, they are from the other four roles around her. Approach death with compassion and kindness and you steal its power. Ignore or deny death and you kill someone before their heart stops beating.
1 of 2 member(s) found this review helpful.
ROSE O. from TOMBALL, TX Reviewed on 2/26/2010...
Amazingly deep and philosophical!
Katherine H. (Plainjane8160) from HANAHAN, SC Reviewed on 4/12/2008...
You will need a box of tissues for this one!I cried.
This movie was excellently done!
You will remember it for a long time!
1 of 1 member(s) found this review helpful.
Aimee M. (AimeeM) Reviewed on 11/27/2007...
This movie is SAD! I do not usually cry during movies, I did through this one... in fact I bawled.
Some may find it insightful. It shows what a person goes through when they have cancer, beyond the pain and treatment it goes into the psychological aspects of being stuck in a hospital... the anger, the fear, the loneliness, the boredom, the annoying nurses, the kind nurses, etc.
I do have more empathy for people dealing with a terminal illness now. This movie did benefit me in that respect. But just be warned it will make you cry. There is some humor to help you through, but it is definitely not a happy movie, and children should avoid it.
1 of 2 member(s) found this review helpful.
A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH...
Lawyeraau | Balmoral Castle | 04/14/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This brilliant adaptation of Margaret Edison's Pulitzer Prize winning play is simply superb. Beautifully directed by Mike Nichols, it is peppered with superlative performances by its cast. It is almost hard to believe that this profoundly moving and poignant film was released for HBO, rather than as a major box office, big screen release.
Tautly written, this remarkable film focuses on an intense and brilliant professor of English, forty-eight year old Vivian Bearing (Emma Thompson), whose academic focus has been metaphysical poetry. She has just been diagnosed by a noted oncologist, Dr. Kelikian (Christopher Lloyd), as having stage four ovarian cancer. She agrees to undergo an eight month long clinical trial to fight this illness, which at the juncture of its discovery is, invariably, terminal. This course of experimental treatment is Professor Bearing's only hope, as she realizes that there is no stage five.
As she undergoes agonizing medical procedures which, it is hoped, may save her life, Professor Bearing muses on a number of life issues in the form of droll monologues. It is these reflections on her life and her illness that drive home to the viewer her humanity, as she struggles to reconcile the abstract with reality. An aloof, spare woman, with a penchant for being a demanding and exacting teacher, Professor Bearing is now trying to hang on to her humanity and dignity, as she is reduced to being a mere lump of flesh.
Made to suffer the indignities imposed by an experimental medical treatment that is brutally aggressive and by the ravages of an illness that is relentless, Professor Bearing keeps a stiff upper lip throughout, never letting down her guard, until the end draws near. During her medical odyssey, she is buoyed by the ministrations of her compassionate, primary care nurse, Susie (Audra McDonald), who seems to be the only member of the medical staff interested in her as a person, rather than as just another cog in the world of medical research. Susie is a perfect foil to the ambitious medical treatment fostered by a callow, though brilliant, young doctor, Jason Posner (Jonathan M. Woodward).
The most singular scene in this film, however, occurs near its end. It is the scene in which Professor Bearing's mentor, Professor E.M. Ashford (Eileen Atkins), visits her one time protege at the hospital. Heartrending, poignant, and infinitely beautiful, it is a scene so richly drawn that it that will haunt the viewer long after the film is over.
Ms. Thompson gives a consummate, beautifully nuanced performance, as does Eileen Atkins. Audra McDonald gives a tender performance, and Christopher Lloyd and Jonathan M. Woodward are, likewise, excellent in their respective roles. Harold Pinter does a wonderful, though brief, turn as Professor Bearing's father. All in all, this is a deftly directed, outstanding film with award caliber performances by the entire cast. Bravo!"
F. Gentile | Lake Worth, Florida, United States | 11/21/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I just tried to write a review of this just re-watched film, from the Pulitzer Prize winning play, and I got all tangled up. So, I'm not going to go into "the story." Just watch this brilliant, moving film about the regimented, respected but feared English professor, whose world is taken from her, when she is diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Narrated throughout by her character, the brilliant Emma Thompson takes us through her progressive deterioration and loss of control amidst the sometimes indifference of the medical profession. Audra McDonald is wonderful also as the nurse, Susie, who, though a total professional, is not only the voice of compassion, but the keeper of Thompsons "Professor Barrie's" dignity, when she can no longer defend it for herself. She is a perfect contrast to the often all to real portrayal of the fresh-faced new doctor, played by Jonathan Woodward, who effectively conveys the preoccupation with stats, data, etc...in his eagerness to "analyze", forgetting there's a human being in that bed to which the stat chart is attached. The scene near the end, where Thompson/Barrie is visited by her grand-motherly former professor, who proceeds to cradle her in her hospital bed and tenderly read a childrens story to her, and bids her good bye, is one of the most moving scenes I've ever experienced. It is not an easy film to watch. Having just lost my life-long friend, who died at 47, in hospice, it was especially poignant. But, if you watch one film, watch "Wit." It is beyond being labeled as mere entertainment, and, though the subject matter is in itself depressing, the film is not. It is one of those increasingly very, very rare films that will greatly move you. And, though you pretty much know from the first words spoken in the film where it is headed, it is ultimatley life affirming, and very touching in its conveyance of the dignity of the human spirit. Easily one of the most intelligent, moving, beautiful movies I've ever seen. Watch it."
Prepare to cry, a serious movie about a serious topic
atmj | Rochester, NY USA | 12/04/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Emma Thompson is incredible, in a riveting performance about a woman professor who prides herself on her perseverance and steadfastness, dealing with not only a serious case of cancer but the de-personalization associated with its treatment.This movie is not for those who want light entertainment. It is a serious movie that may lead you to think more closely on how you live your life and how much consideration you have for others in it.Emma Thompson plays Dr. Vivian Bearing a staunch English professor specializing in a 17th century poet, Donne, most well known for his poems on death and the afterlife, or lack thereof.Ironically, Dr. Bearing though literate to the greatest degree on this most difficult of authors, has never really absorbed in a human sense the material she has spent her life researching. It was all abstract. In this sense she has been very "abstract" in dealing with the people around her as well.Initially in dealing with the disease, Dr. Bearing has attempted to maintain this abstract distance with her own disease, refusing to yield to the potential reality of its outcome. Through discussions with a former student who is now one of the doctors treating her, she comes to judge her own actions by observing those around her. Not wanting to give the movie away, I can only say, it is a hard movie not to cry throughout. Anyone who has seen a family member go through cancer treatment will recognize some of the buzzwords and much of the inadvertant rudeness of the medical staff. This is not meant as a complaint. I can see how this happens. The staff may have to; as a matter of self-preservation, keep a distance to continue to do this work day-to-day. For the patient though, this is as personal as it gets.In one scene, Emma Thompson as Dr. Bearing has a discussion with her former student where he refers to patients as a means to an end for his research, not considering he is also refering to the very patient he is now treating. Her character is content to keep this abstraction, but you as the viewer are well aware of the biting coldness of this discussion. Magnificent writing, heartless reality. Numbing emotionally.Great movie, it is emotionally wrenching to watch however."
EMMA THOMPSON AT HER GREATEST
anonymous | United States | 07/05/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Emma Thompson has established herself as one of the great actresses of this or any generation thanks to her superlative work in Howards End, Remains of the Day, Sense and Sensibility, In the Name of the Father, to name my personal favorites. I wasn't prepared for the powerhouse work on WIT. But WOW--that's the kind of acting that only a handful of actresses have accomplished. It's heartfelt, without being pitiful. It's funny, without being cynical. It's tragic, without being sentimental or melodramatic. In a word: PERFECTION. WIT is the story of an intellecual snob who is dying of cancer and comes to the realization that all her intellect and snobbery means nothing, ultimately. The film takes place in a hospital where Thompson's character, a university professor who specializes in the poems of John Donne, is undergoing an experimental type of chemotherapy that's literally eating her inside out. It's not an easy movie to watch, but in the end you feel transformed emotionally. The scene in which her own university professor reads her a children's book is heartwrenching. I loved this film. It gave me a new perspective on cancer, the suffering patients go through, some of the callousness that sometimes occurs in a hospital setting, and, most significantly to me personally, broadened my understanding of and gave me a new respect for the human spirit, that spirit which transcends pain and fear of the unknown. Thank you Ms. Thompson for this beautiful work of art."
Coming to grips with paradoxes
Cowboy Bill | Omaha, NE USA | 08/25/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"**SPOILER ALERT ** -- I touch on the ending of this movie in my review.
Two wonderful works are highlighted in "Wit" -- one of John Donne's Holy Sonnets ("Death be not proud") and "The Runaway Bunny" by Margaret Wise Brown. "Wit"'s author, Margaret Edson, pulls these two seemingly distant texts into her script and uses them in the most amazing (witty?) way.
Donne's metaphysical sonnets are notoriously difficult and are often approached as beautifully wrought puzzles -- puzzles that are so intellectually daunting the emotion that underlies them is sometimes missed. "The Runaway Bunny," on the other hand, is probably seen by many readers as a very simple tale full of feeling but not particularly challenging. Yet Edson shows us how deep and multilayered a children's tale can be while also demonstrating the basic human feeling underneath the most cerebral of poems. The simple becomes complex; the complex, simple.
We get the most out of literature when we approach it with our full humanity engaged, ignoring neither our thoughts nor our feelings. "Wit" tells us that we get the most out of life when we approach it in the same way.
Emma Thompson's cancer-stricken English professor, Vivian Bearing, ultimately triumphs over death by surrendering to it -- and it is this Donne-ish paradox that "Wit" illustrates so well. In the end, "Wit" wisely questions the notions 1) that intellect and emotion are two separate faculties and 2) that simplicity and complexity are necessarily opposites. (One hallmark of Donne's "wit" -- a term Donne's contemporaries would've understood as creative invention -- was its examination of semantic antonyms.) "Wit" also reminds us that the infinite can be both large and small.
John Donne knew this stuff, and apparently so did Margaret Wise Brown. And, luckily for us, so does "Wit"'s author, Margaret Edson. By the way, if you've never read the above-mentioned Donne poem, here it is:
Holy Sonnet ("Death be not proud") by John Donne Death be not proud, though some have called thee / Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not soe, / For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow, / Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill mee; / From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee, / Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow, / And soonest our best men with thee doe goe, / Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie. / Thou'art slave to Fate, chance, kings, and desperate men, / And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell, / And poppie,' or charmes can make us sleepe as well, / And better then they stroake; why swell'st thou then? / One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally, / And death shall be no more, Death thou shalt die."