Monday, May 19, 2008

Robin Williams Triple Feature--Patch Adams

Today is a really fun day for me because I get to watch some of my very favorite movies. I will be starting with Patch Adams, and soon to follow are Dead Poet's Society and What Dreams May Come.

Patch Adams is an inspirational, moving film that starts with Adams' attempt at suicide. The movie opens as Adams explains his despair, saying "All of life is a coming home. Salesmen, secretaries, coal miners, beekeepers, sword swallowers, all of us. All the restless hearts of the world, all trying to find a way home. It's hard to describe what I felt like then. Picture yourself walking for days in the driving snow; you don't even know you're walking in circles. The heaviness of your legs in the drifts, your shouts disappearing into the wind. How small you can feel, and how far away home can be. Home. The dictionary defines it as both a place of origin and a goal or destination. And the storm? The storm was all in my mind. Or as the poet Dante put it: In the middle of the journey of my life, I found myself in a dark wood, for I had lost the right path. Eventually I would find the right path, but in the most unlikely place. "

Soon after, Adams did find his path. He committed himself to a mental hospital where he faced a stereotypically unhelpful psychiatrist who did not listen and framed his life problems entirely in relation to his connection with his mother and father. The doctors did not help Patch Adams, they treated him as an illness rather than a person with a problem. (Patch later says, "You treat a disease, you win, you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you, you'll win, no matter what the outcome.") The other patients, though, were Patch's cure. He learned to help them through humor, and discovered that he felt euphoric when doing so. Against medical advice, Patch left the hospital and started medical school.

Patch Adams found his own salvation from death in helping other people. However, in starting a free clinic for the sick, the suicidal ideations of another came to destroy Patch's friend and love, Corinne. Patch had come across one of his clinic patients, Larry, before in the ER, where he frequently showed up after mutilating himself in bouts of depression following the death of his father. Larry showed up at Patch's clinic in search of help, and later called asking for somebody to come over and talk to him when he was depressed. Corinne arrived at Larry's home, where he appeared to be calmly playing piano. As he began talking, Larry's demeanor shifted and he seemed to undergo some kind of delusion. Larry went into his closet to grab his coat, saying to Corinne "We're going to be late," though they are going nowhere, before taking a gun and shooting Corinne and then himself. Whatever he envisioned going on was too much for him to handle, and he took his own life and that of another. (Those who suffer from mental illness are very rarely a danger to others, more often they are the victims themselves, but there are certainly some precautions people should take in working with individuals who have violent tendencies.)

After Corinne's death, Patch again faces the issue of his own mortality. He peers over a cliff, musing, "Yeah, I could do it. We both know you wouldn't stop me. So answer me please. Tell me what you're doing. Okay, let's look at the logic. You create man. Man suffers enormous amounts of pain. Man dies. Maybe you should have had just a few more brainstorming sessions prior to creation. You rested on the seventh day. Maybe you should've spent that day on compassion." Patch could have returned to his initial despair and thrown himself off the cliff, but instead decided, "You know what? You're not worth it." Despite his incredible hardships, he walked away from the cliff and continued to fight for his passion for humane medicine.

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