Medics in the Movies: The Doctor

Posted on December 12, 2010. Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , , , , |

It’s the penultimate film in my series of movies about medicine, this time we’re taking a pretty cynical look at the American Healthcare system.

The Doctor is the story of Dr Jack MacKee (William Hurt), your typical hot shot surgeon who is all about the cutting and doesn’t care much for his patients well being. Or his wife and kid for that matter.  Then one day he finds out he has cancer and he discovers what it’s like to be a patient in his own hospital. Cue big change in life philosophy and whadyaknow he becomes a much better doctor than he ever was before.

That’s a pretty sarcastic sounding plot summary isn’t it?  It’s not that I didn’t like this film, but it is fairly paint-by-numbers when it comes to plot.  From the initial set up in the operating theatre it’s clear that we’re going to be bashing the Surgeon stereotype here.  The side plot of Jack’s growing relationship with fellow patient June (played very nicely by Elizabeth Perkins) is again predictable, as he drifts away from his wife and learns about the flaws in the system through June’s suffering.

Despite being a bit ploddy, The Doctor isn’t a bad film; it’s just not as good as some of the others I’ve watched recently.  It does raise some common issues about healthcare, most of which are particularly relevant to America such as the prevalence of malpractice suits and the issue of withholding expensive procedures in a bid to save money.

What this film is trying to draw attention to is how easy it can be for doctors to treat patients like they’re on an assembly line, making little effort to reassure them about what is going on because they are simply too busy.   Jack treats his patients with, at best, indifference, but as he receives the same treatment from his own doctors he begins to change his behaviour.

There are some very nice moments in this film, the ending as a reflection of the beginning is skillfully done, and there is an impressive scene between Hurt and Christine Lahti (playing his wife) where he is trying to force her into an argument to finally air some of their problems but he can’t talk so has only a whistle and a whiteboard to make his point.

As a medical student, The Doctor is an interesting and potentially important film, as it draws attention to some bad habits that it is all to easy to fall into.  However, as a movie lover, I wouldn’t necessarily urge you to rush out and watch it.  It’s OK, but there’s nothing groundbreaking in it, and most of the same issues are raised in any one episode of Scrubs.

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