English Professor Vivian Bearing (Thompson) is an uncompromising authority on 17th Century English poetry, especially that of John Donne, whose Holy Sonnet X ("Death, be not proud...") figures heavily in the film, an obvious device that could be tiresome in the hands of lesser artists. At age 48, Vivian is diagnosed with Stage IV ovarian cancer by prominent physician Harvey Kelekian (Christopher Lloyd), who gets her to agree to aggressive, debilitating chemotherapy that will serve his research agenda by appealing to their common commitment to rigorous scholarly discipline. The stoic Vivian bears this therapy and degrading study by Kelekian's team, including her own former student Jason Posner (Jonathan M. Woodward). Posner is now a bright research fellow who refers to clinicians as "troglodytes" and whose bludgeoning insensitivity seems to amuse Vivian more than it pains her, at least for a while. Vivian is asked "how are you feeling today?" so frequently and mechanically that it loses all meaning, and she remarks that she's a bit sorry she won't be able to hear herself being asked the question after she has just died. She engages in piercing monologue to the camera, applying the analytical skills she honed as a scholar to her life, her condition and the health care system she confronts. This system ironically sacrifices the well-being of individual patients, not... [continues]
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