Sunday, December 03, 2006

"Death be not Proud" - John Donne

I chose the film "Wit" as part of my theological interaction paper. Directed by Mike Nichols, the main character Dr Vivian Bearing was powerfully portrayed by Emma Thompson. When I borrowed the tape, the librarian reminded me to have a box of Kleenex tissues on hand as the film is a weeper.

Dr Bearing was a Professor in the arts, a top authority in 17th Century poetry, espcially John Donne. Hard, demanding and uncompromising, she gained herself a famous reputation. Right from the beginning of the film, she was diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic Ovarian cancer, and the rest of the film was about her struggles and observations of how she was treated as the medical professionals began her chemotherapy treatment.

One of the oft quoted poems was the one below by John Donne. She learnt it from her former professor, she recited and taught it in class, and eventually in her dying moments continued to recite it by heart. The verse numbers are included for ease of reference. At her death, the film played back her recitation of the poem, defying death's hold on her, that once she dies, death indeed shall be no more.
1 Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
2 Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
3 For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow,
4 Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
5 From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
6 Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
7 And soonest our best men with thee do go,
8 Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
9 Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
10 And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell;
11 And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
12 And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
13 One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
14 And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

The film is a scathing rebuke on the medical research community, and people who put research above human compassion, treating Dr Bearing like a mere research subject. The film ended wonderfully, with Margaret Wise Brown's The Runaway Rabbit. Strange that at the dying moments, Dr Bearing did not want to be read John Donne's famous poem, but a simple children's story. The director puts a brilliant contrast with Medical research vs Literary Arts, Research-Focus vs Human Compassion, and high-style poems vs children's story.

My heart was moved.


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