"Wit" (2001)

Director: Mike Nichols. Writing credits: Margaret Edson (original play), Emma Thompson, Mike Nichols. Producers: Mike Nichols, Cary Brokaw, Simon Bosanquet, et al. Cinematography: Seamus McGarvey. Film editing: John Bloom. Casting: Leo Davis, Ellen Lewis, Juliet Taylor. Production design: Stuart Wurtzel. Music: Arvo Pärt, Henryk Mikołaj Górecki, Dmitry Shostakovich, Charles Ives. Cast: Emma Thompson (Prof. Vivian Bearing), Christopher Lloyd (Dr. Harvey Kelekian), Eileen Atkins (Prof. Evelyn ‘E.M.’ Ashford), Jonathan M. Woodward (Dr. Jason Posner), et al. 35 mm, aspect ratio: 1,85:1, 99 min (DVD approx. 95 min), color. Company: HBO Films / Avenue Pictures Productions, USA, 2001. Première: 9 Feb 2001, Berlin International Film Festival.

Vivian Bearing, Ph.D. (Emma Thompson) is a 48-year-old professor of English, specialising in the work of 17th century metaphysical poet John Donne. Although without family or any real friends, she has achieved a level of comfort with herself, as well as her work. With her students she is demanding, and insists that those in attendance rise to her level. She does not suffer fools, or students’ academic
shortcomings, no matter what their reasons may be. Hers is a scholarly life, and she is secure with her place in it. Yet she has never noticed that her pursuit of excellence has, over the years, turned her aloof, isolated, and emotionally detached from other people.

Then, with the diagnosis of terminal ovarian cancer, her world abruptly changes. With biting humor and wit, Vivian approaches her illness as she would one of Donne’s sonnets, vigorously probing and intensely rational. However, over the course of eight months of aggressive high-dose chemotherapy, and several flashbacks to her childhood and teaching years, Vivian undergoes a change in perspectives.
She used to pride herself on her strong will and sharp mind; yet she soon discovers intellect does not provide her with any help in what she is going through, and all of the tools with which she has equipped herself to take on the challenges of her life are completely ineffective in the face of this disease. In the research hospital,she goes through a role reversal from being a teacher to a subject being studied.

There is little reason to expect that the full-dose of chemotherapy will cure her, but the treatment results will make a significant contribution to medical research. Furthermore, Vivian becomes treated as insensitively as she had treated her students – except for one nurse, the medical staff is distant, detached, and disinterested in Dr. Bearing on a personal level (“Research first, a patient second!”). And as if in
her students’ position what she finds herself longing for is human kindness and compassion.