Movie Review - The Doctor

Movie Review - The Doctor

We’ve all been there.

We arrive on time, or early, for a doctor’s appointment and we sit waiting, waiting, waiting in the appropriately named waiting room for 30 minutes, an hour or more. Or we are admitted into a hospital and wheeled around corridors like a piece of machinery.

If we dare ask a question, we may or may not get an answer from the doctor or nurse attending us. And sometimes that answer is delivered in a clipped, icy tone of voice, a tone that informs us: stop asking questions.

Or we show up in the emergency room, doubled over in pain, urgently needing relief, or treatment or both. We are handed a clipboard with a sheaf of forms to be filled out, asked for our insurance card and told to take a number.

The Doctor(1991) is a movie that seems just as relevant today as it was when it was released 25 years ago. Starring William Hurt as a successful heart surgeon with a less-than-desirable (from the patients’ point of view) bedside manner. When he suffers a health setback of his own, he learns there is more to the practice of medicine than knowing where to slice into the patient.

This is a film about transformation and it is interesting that a similar film came out the same year: Regarding Henry, with Harrison Ford. In each of these films, an unpleasant, uncaring man has a traumatic experience, receives medical treatment and, in recovery, is transformed. The Doctoris a richer, better movie. Early in the story, Dr. Jack MacKee (Hurt) listens to a female patient’s emotional concern about her relationship with her husband since her heart surgery. She worries that he no longer desires her because of the resultant surgical scars on her chest. He flippantly advises her to tell her husband she’s now like a Playboycenterfold with “the staple marks to prove it.”

He just doesn’t get it.

But what happens when the doctor gets sick? A persistent cough leads MacKee to seek med­ical counsel. He is diagnosed with throat cancer and draws a doctor whose bedside manner is a mirror of his own. When he wants compassion or even a little information, he gets an indifferent, authoritative medical professional who coldly outlines the divide between them: “I am the doctor and you are the patient.” His experience with her and with the medical establishment forces him to reassess his life and beliefs about the practice of medicine generally and his practice of it specifically. He also learns much about living with disease from a terminally ill cancer patient marvelously played by Elizabeth Perkins.

Elsewhere in the Spring 2016 issue of Insight, Dean James Pappas writes about the importance of “soft skills.” Dr. MacKee learns through his experience that his soft skills were gravely lacking. He is transformed by this learning and becomes a better doctor and a better human being.

The Doctoris a moving film that transforms the viewer, too. And it is highly recommended for three out of four medical professionals.

A Few Other Movies about Health and Healthcare



Seconds movie stillSeconds(1966)

A dissatisfied middle-aged man searches for a change in his life. Through some sci-fi plastic surgery, he becomes Rock Hudson! This is a film about how one’s internal needs cannot be met through appearances and achievements.



The Hospital movie stillThe Hospital(1971)

Paddy Chayefsky’s black comedy, set in a New York hospital, is partly an entertainment film. It also addresses the inhumanity of modern medical practice.



One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest movie stillOne Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest(1975)

The world is a madhouse is possibly one view of this Academy Award-winning film in which the “unstable” patients in a mental hospital prove themselves to be just as competent as those in charge.



Awakenings movie stillAwakenings(1990)

Awakeningstells the true story of a coura­geous doctor who, through a miraculous drug, temporarily enables a patient in the clutches of Parkinson’s disease to break the hold the disease has on him.



Supersize Me movie stillSuper Size Me(2004)

Morgan Spurlock came up with a truly stupid idea: exist solely on food purchased at McDonald’s. He recorded this experiment in unhealthy eating in a documentary that makes us want to shout, “What were you thinking?”

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Jerry Jerman

Jerry Jerman served as the Director of Marketing and Communications for OU Outreach before retiring in 2016. He continues to teach as an adjunct instructor of humanities and classic films for PACS and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.