Saturday, May 17, 2008

Top 10 Palliative Care Films

We hope over the upcoming weeks and months you will enjoy learning and exploring the more "creative" side of palliative medicine! As a way to get things rolling we thought it'd be fun to spend some time thinking about our top 10 palliative minded films. As you may imagine, the decision was tough. There are actually a lot of movies out there that deal with things like death, grief, mortality, etc. We tried to have each film cover a particular unique theme. We'll undoubtedly spend time in future posts exploring these great films.

Please comment if you have used these in teaching, or there are films you think should be in the top 10, or if you think the list should be reordered.

For now, here's Pallimed: Arts & Humanities top 10 palliative care films:

Plot summaries courtesy of the Internet Movie Database; Titles link to the film preview
10. One True Thing (A career woman reassesses her parents' lives after she is forced to care for her cancer-stricken mother.)

9. The Fountain (Spanning over one thousand years, and three parallel stories this is a story of love, death, spirituality and the fragility of our existence in this world)

8. Big Fish (A story about a son trying to learn more about his dying father by reliving stories and myths his father told him about himself)

7. Life as a House (When a man is diagnosed with terminal cancer, he takes custody of his misanthropic teenage son)

6. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (The true story of Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby who suffers a stroke and has to live with an almost totally paralyzed body; only his left eye isn't paralyzed)

5. The Sea Inside (The real-life story of Spaniard Ramon Sampedro, who fought a 30 year campaign in favor of euthanasia and his own right to die)

4. On Our Own Terms: Moyers on Dying (Four part PBS series by journalist Bill Moyers that focuses on end-of-life care in the US)

3. Two Weeks (In this bittersweet comedy, four adult siblings gather at their dying mother's house in North Carolina for what they expect to be a quick, last goodbye)

2. The Doctor (Jack Mckee is a doctor with it all: he's successful, he's rich, and he has no problems...until he is diagnosed with throat cancer)

1. Wit (A renowned professor is forced to reassess her life when she is diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer)

34 Responses to “Top 10 Palliative Care Films”

christine butler said...
May 20, 2008 at 6:54 AM

A Wayfarer's Journey---Listening to Mahler is a fabulous documentary on listening, music and healing that features Dr Balfour Mount and another physician who's name I can't recall. This is very moving for Mahler fans and articulates feelings I have had about his music that I had never expressed aloud.


Christian Sinclair, MD said...
May 20, 2008 at 9:32 AM

Thanks for the tip Christine. I know Dr. Clarkson is very interested in Mahler so she may have more to say about that.

As far as the top 10 list, I think I would have put Big Fish more towards the top. I think it symbolically and literally represents so much about what we try to help our patients and families achieve.

Another film that touches on autonomy, palliative care and euthanasia is The Barbarian Invasions. I thought the film dealt with this very controversial subject in a way that may resonate more with people (than The Sea Inside) because it was much more about a family's private struggle around euthanasia more than a public fight.

Anyone think Steel Magnolias should be on here? Or is it too cliche?

I thought Kevin Kline was great in Life as a House, but I really cannot stand Hayden Christensen as an actor so that movie kind of grates me because of him.


Christian Sinclair, MD said...
May 20, 2008 at 9:33 AM

Here is the link to "A Wayfarer's Journey"


Christian Sinclair, MD said...
May 20, 2008 at 9:34 AM

Christine the docs name was Richard O'reilly from Memorial Sloan Kettering. (from the PBS website)


Sean Marks said...
May 22, 2008 at 9:05 AM

What a great list. I just added a bunch of these movies to my netflix queue. Another film to consider is About Schmidt. I'm biased b/c this is one of my favorite comedies and I value it immensely. It explores many relevant pall care themes rather well such as how we age and confront feelings of our own mortality, how our internal compass can go haywire after a spouse's death, how a mother's death can affect family dynamics, and who we express our grief to. Some others that I am partial to are Dead Man by Jim Jarmusch, it uses some really cool imagery to depict many different culture's dying rituals especially the motif of Charon as the ferryman of river Styx. 21 Grams does a good job of asking "what is the numeric value/weight of suffering and death." The Sweet Hereafter may deserve consideration b/c it deals with how our society complicates the bereavement process by introducing class action lawsuits and blame after unexpected tragedies. I liked All that Jazz more so b/c it gives a glimpse of how some people perceive death as this firework display amongst the backdrop of fantastic colors, energy and vitality. I'll keep thinking of more. Thanks for this post.


Amber Wollesen, MD said...
May 22, 2008 at 9:43 AM

There are so many great palliative care movies out there. It was hard to narrow it down to 10. 21 Grams was actually one we considered. I haven't seen About Schmidt but I've heard its good. I think we could easily have put together a top 20 movies.

Thanks for your comment, Sean. If you think of any more great palliative care movies, let us know. I'm adding to the movies-I-need-to-see list.


Drew Rosielle MD said...
May 22, 2008 at 7:06 PM

I've been digging through my Netflix queue and rental history and was struck by how few of the films I've watched in the 8 years I've used Netflix are 'palliative-care-y.' Many involve death and dying of course, but not in the way that Wit, for instance, does - i.e. presents death, and illness in a way which could inform my work, be used as a didactic tool, or whatever. This may be my taste in movies, but I also wonder if there just aren't too many movies out there which present death and illness in a way that is even recognizable to contemporary medicine??

Anway, some suggestions for the top 20, or 30...?

Bringing Out the Dead: involves at least in part an EMT's guilt and struggle with successfully resuscitating a patient.

Million Dollar Baby: pissed me off to no end for so many reasons but represents a cultural touchstone w/r/t 'right to die' stuff.

The Pillow Book: I figure if you can include the Fountain I too can include a complete freak show of a movie (this one involving a...unique...treatment of a loved but dead corpse).

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada: another movie about the 'care' of the beloved's corpse.

The Savages: I was struck by watching this about people's comments on the dysfunction of the family. My perspective is that they were essentially a functional, loving family who navigated as best they could the landscape of terminal decline without really any help

Ozu's Tokyo Story is one of the saddest movies about aging that I know.


Christian Sinclair, MD said...
May 22, 2008 at 8:29 PM

Wow! There are a lot more movies out there and I thought I had a good handle on some. Looks like we got some art house/indie film fans out here.

I tried watching "The Fountain", but I really could not get through it. I stopped about 35 mins in, and I am usually very tolerant of odd films. At least that is what my wife says.

Maybe Amber & Amy could make some more thematic lists such as "Top 10 movies demonstrating accurate palliative care practices (i.e not Million Dollar Baby)" or "Top 10 Palliative Care Movies that actually grossed more than $20 million" etc., etc.

Some other oldies but goodies that would be good (But I have not seen yet):

Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990) not on DVD apparently IMDB synopsis: Nina is totally heartbroken at the death of her boyfriend Jamie, but is even more unprepared for his return as a ghost. At first it's almost as good as it used to be - hey, even the rats that infested her house have disappeared. But Jamie starts bringing ghostly friends home and behaving more and more oddly.

Basically about the grief and bereavement phase.

And from 1971 Harold and Maude. IMDB synopsis: The self-destructive and needy wealthy teenager Harold is obsessed by death and spends his leisure time attending funerals, watching demolishing of buildings, visiting junkyards, simulating suicides trying to get attention of his indifferent, snobbish and egocentric mother and having sessions with his psychologist. When Harold meets the anarchist seventy nine year-old Maude at a funeral, they become friends and the old lady discloses others perspectives of the cycle of life for him. Meanwhile his mother enlists him in a dating service and tries to force Harold to join the army. On the day of the eightieth anniversary of Maude, Harold proposes her but he finds the truth about the end of the cycle of life.


Amber Wollesen, MD said...
May 23, 2008 at 9:21 PM

I think we could easily divide our movie lists into categories. One I had thought of was best palliative care documentaries (203 days, To Live Until I Die etc.). There are a lot of good ones out there.
I will admit to not being familiar with some of the movies Drew and Christian mentioned. I watched the trailer for the Pillow Book. The palliative care theme isn't obvious from the trailer, but I'll take your word for it. It looked interesting anyway. But not really a family movie.

Amy and I had a pretty long list of movies to start with. We tried to put movies on the list that had an over-all palliative theme. So many movies have death and grief as part of their plots. We also tried to limit movies that were very similar. Here are some of the others we thought about (synopsis from IMDb):

The Big Chill-A group of old college friends who are now all grown up and hardened by the big wide world come together for the funeral of Alex, who was at one time the brightest and the best of them, and yet who never managed to achieve half as much as any of the others. The friends use the occasion to reacquaint themselves with each other and to speculate as to what happened to their idealism which had been abundant when they were younger

The Seventh Seal:A Knight and his squire are home from the crusades. Black Death is sweeping their country. As they approach home, Death appears to the knight and tells him it is his time. The knight challenges Death to a chess game for his life.

Weekend at Bernie's: (do you need a synopsis?)

Defending your Life:In an afterlife resembling the present-day US, people must prove their worth by showing in court how they have demonstrated courage.

Whose life is it anyway?:Ken Harrison is an artist ...He is involved in a car acident, and is paralyzed from his neck down. In hospital he make friends with some of the staff, and they support him when he goes to trial to be allowed to die.

There are many more.


Anonymous said...
May 24, 2008 at 9:35 AM

Harold and Maude is one of my all time favorite movies....not sure what that might say about me.

Another great movie dealing with life and death is "My Life" with Michael Keeton and Nicole Kidman about a man dying of a brain tumor and the birth of his child. He spends a lot of time in making a home movie for his child to watch to learn about him.

Also, just watched the Savages and agree that the family was not dysfunctional in today's society.

Thanks for the list. Need to start renting and watching movies.

Jonette Shafer, PharmD


Amber Wollesen, MD said...
May 24, 2008 at 8:48 PM

My Life was one we had on an initial list. I think it has a very realistic portrayal of the gradual decline we see in our hospice patients. What I didn't like about it is the death scene. Michael Keaton is wide awake, looking up at his wife. Then all of a sudden he takes a couple big deep breath, exhales and that's that. Seems a like a bit of Hollywood drama to me. Although, I must say, not as bad as some.
Thanks for your comments Jonette.


Anonymous said...
May 26, 2008 at 8:33 AM

I watched Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium the other night with my kids and was surprised to find a life/death/grief storyline. Thought it was just about a toy store.


Christian Sinclair, MD said...
May 27, 2008 at 3:02 AM

New movies mentioned so far in the comments...wow!

A Wayfarer's Journey
The Barbarian Invasions
Steel Magnolias
About Schmidt
Dead Man
21 Grams
The Sweet Hereafter
All That Jazz
Bringing Out the Dead
Million Dollar Baby
The Pillow Book
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
The Savages
Tokyo Story
Truly, Madly, Deeply
Harold and Maude
The Big Chill
The Seventh Seal
Weekend at Bernie's
Defending Your Life
Whose Life Is It Anyway?
My Life
Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium


Bruce said...
May 28, 2008 at 9:07 PM

Thanks for creating this blog! Great idea.

Another movie that you might consider is Philadelphia (1993) starring Tom Hanks.


s cronier said...
May 30, 2008 at 6:21 AM

What about 203 days? This was filmed by a hospice volunteer and it follows a woman from the time she was placed on hospice until her death, probably not something you would want to watch on a Saturday night with a bowl of popcorn, but it does show what hospice it all about


Amber Wollesen, MD said...
May 30, 2008 at 10:38 PM

203 days is a great documentary. For anyone who doesn't know it, you can watch it online (address below). I think it could be a great tool for teaching about hospice and what it means to be on hospice. In fact, it has some teaching questions with it. It's not that long (only 27 minutes) so you could easily fit it into one teaching session.

http://fitsweb.uchc.edu/days/days.html


ppoore, rn said...
June 17, 2008 at 5:21 PM

I happened upon "The Shootist" with John Wayne just this last Sunday and told Christian about it. He directed me to this link. What a great idea. As I was watching the movie I thought, what a great teaching tool. There is a seen where John Wayne's doctor is giving him "the talk" - does a pretty decent job of laying it all out there for him. Then John Wayne very stoicly chooses how he will spend his last days. Christian told me this was John Wayne's last movie before he died of cancer. Interesting! Oh, I think Steel Magnolias is a great movie for the list.


Christian Sinclair, MD said...
June 17, 2008 at 8:08 PM

Ppoore,

I misspoke when I told you I knew where I heard of The Shootist before.

I had referenced James Hallenbeck's well put together VA Interprofessional Palliative Care Fellowship journal club series. In week 40 he reviews Films and Palliative Care. (Which was one inspiration for this list.) He posted about death and films on his now defunct blog at Growthhouse.

The films listed there include:

What Dreams May Come
Defending Your Life
The AFterlife
The Doctor
Ikiru
The Pride of the Yankees
Star Wars

So to update the list so far of films mentioned in the comments:

A Wayfarer's Journey
The Barbarian Invasions
Steel Magnolias
About Schmidt
Dead Man
21 Grams
The Sweet Hereafter
All That Jazz
Bringing Out the Dead
Million Dollar Baby
The Pillow Book
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
The Savages
Tokyo Story
Truly, Madly, Deeply
Harold and Maude
The Big Chill
The Seventh Seal
Weekend at Bernie's
Defending Your Life
Whose Life Is It Anyway?
My Life
Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium
203 Days
The Shootist
What Dreams May Come
Defending Your Life
The Afterlife
The Doctor
Ikiru
The Pride of the Yankees
Star Wars


Anonymous said...
July 2, 2008 at 9:29 AM

I love this side of Pallimed!!!! Please consider adding these to the movie list: Terms of Endearment; Sally Fields and Shirley MacLaine, Dying Young; Julia Roberts, My Girl; Dan Aykroyd and McCally Caulken, Simon Birch; Oliver Platt, StepMom; Susan Sarandon and Julia Roberts, and Tender Mercies; Sally Fields and John Malkovic.


ChrisO said...
August 26, 2008 at 10:26 AM

The production number Bye Bye Love in "All that Jazz" presents one way to exit stage left!


Jilly said...
September 24, 2008 at 3:29 PM

The Mighty
The Fisher King
Jacob's Ladder
Shadowlands
Fried Green Tomatoes
Dead Man


ChrisO said...
September 24, 2008 at 4:11 PM

The Russian film "Mat i syn" (Mother and Son) is powerful yet very quiet and subtle. See the trailer at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119711 to get an idea of the visual style. I saw it in 1997 and it still haunts me.


Marty Tousley, CNS-BC, FT said...
March 12, 2009 at 1:21 PM

As a hospice bereavement counselor and content provider for Self-Healing Expressions, I've been listing and categorizing grief movies for the bereaved since 2003. You'll find my article entitled "Grief Observed: Using Movies to Move through Grief" here: http://www.selfhealingexpressions.com/grief_movies.shtml


Amber Wollesen, MD said...
March 13, 2009 at 5:43 PM

Marty, There are so many great movies out there with palliative care themes. It's so great that you've put together these lists. I saw some familiar movies and some I need to check out. Thank you for the link.


Christian Sinclair, MD said...
May 5, 2009 at 7:47 AM

Ppoore, RN

The Shootist with John Wayne gets covered this week by Amber.


Karen Gallão said...
December 12, 2009 at 10:22 AM

Hello people!

I think "My LIfe Without Me" it´s an excellent movie about ending life...

I recomend it!

Congratulations for he wonderful blog! It makes me learn so much!

Thank u all!

Karen Gallão (brazilian occupational therapy student)


Karen Gallão said...
March 16, 2011 at 11:54 PM

Hello people!

I think "My LIfe Without Me" it´s an excellent movie about ending life...

I recomend it!

Congratulations for he wonderful blog! It makes me learn so much!

Thank u all!

Karen Gallão (brazilian occupational therapy student)


Amber Wollesen, MD said...
March 16, 2011 at 11:54 PM

Marty, There are so many great movies out there with palliative care themes. It's so great that you've put together these lists. I saw some familiar movies and some I need to check out. Thank you for the link.


ChrisO said...
March 16, 2011 at 11:54 PM

The production number Bye Bye Love in "All that Jazz" presents one way to exit stage left!


Cyndi Cramer said...
September 11, 2011 at 7:39 PM

Thank you for the great list!
I have been utilizing movies in my classes.

I was doing a "Come to the Movies" periodically at my hospital. We had a discussion aftewards, had popcorn, and gave contact hours. A way to reach folks that won't come to a class. Trying to start it up again...

I've also been including movies in our Palliative Care "Cruise & Learn" Conferences. Have shown Bucket List, Randy Pausch's Last Lecture, and after a program on Difficult Conversations we showed The Doctor with great examples of the effects of how we communicate!

Going to Alaska in Sept, 2012 & will be repeating the Conversations topic but also offering one on Storytelling ("When It's Not Always Happily Ever After") and am looking for a good storytelling movie to show and you've given me some ideas (Maybe Big Fish?)

Utilizing the arts can teach so much more in a short time than you can get across just lecturing or talking sometimes...
Cyndi Cramer


ChrisO said...
September 11, 2011 at 10:10 PM

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a good story with elements of the fantastic.


ChrisO said...
September 11, 2011 at 10:15 PM

Helpful description of Benjamin Button http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0421715/synopsis


lynda said...
May 27, 2013 at 2:54 PM

My new favorite, The Way with the Sheen family. And a slightly sappy film, Mary and Mary and Martha with Hillary Swank.


Lisa Mccall said...
July 28, 2014 at 10:04 AM

The End and Dying in Oregon..Netflix