Wit - Movie Review
Updated: Sep 10, 2022
As with all movies on this website, our goal is not to provide a complete synopsis of the film, but rather to document how the movie relates to the meaning of life. With that said, be forewarned, there are still spoilers ahead.
Wit is a movie adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same title by Margaret Edson. The movie was released in 2021 and was directed by Mike Nichols.
Though many people may disagree, the best way to sum up the movie is that it is an hour and forty minutes of watching someone die of ovarian cancer with poetry laced throughout. Oh, and with really big words like ratiocination, concatenation, coruscation, tergiversation, etc. The main character, Vivian Bearing is played by Emma Thompson. Vivian is an English professor who specializes in the Holy Sonnets of John Donne.
This movie is complex with ironies and paradoxes, just as John Donne's writings were. In John's writings you get someone that as the movie outlines, examines mortality more deeply and more thoroughly than any else ever has in the English language—someone who inspects the barriers between life, death, and the eternal. And comes to the conclusion that all that stands between them is a comma.
What is interesting about the movie is that Vivian is a cold, somewhat anti-social, and an uncaring professor. When a student asked for an extension because his grandmother died, she said no without hesitation. When Vivian is hospitalized, we see the same treatment from her doctors, who care more about their research than they do about the person being treated. It is as if Vivian is nothing but a slab of meat, and Dr. Jason Posner who is treating her is very open about that. In fact, when Vivian eventually flatlines, despite her do not resuscitate order, Jason still attempts to bring her back—stating very clearly to the nurse that Vivian is research. Vivian is asked so many times in a monotone and uncaring voice, how she feels today, the question loses any personal meaning, and hence her daily response "fine."
Some of the ironies we see in the movie involve themes like mortality and immortality. On the one hand, you have doctors simultaneously trying to save lives, but not caring about the lives they are saving. You have a professor that is dying but being killed by a disease (cancer) that actually may be part of the key to immortality (at least here on earth). That is, cancer cells can replicate infinitely, which is what kills the person. If cancer doesn't kill you first, eventually your cells wills stop replicating, which, again, kills the person. Then underneath all this we have the underlying theme of immortality through religion, written by a guy who as Jason would put it later, has "salvation anxiety." In fact, we can see this in the following conversation between Jason and a nurse named Susie.
Jason: And you know you're a sinner. And there's this whole promise of salvation, the who religious thing. But you just can't deal with it.
Susie: Well, how come?
Jason: Because it doesn't stand up to scrutiny. But you can't face life without it either. So you write these screwed-up sonnets, like a game to make the puzzle so complicated.
Susie: What happens in the end?
Jason: The end of what?
Susie: To John Donne. Does he ever get it?
Jason: Get what?
Susie: His salvation anxiety. Does he ever understand?
Jason: Oh. No way. The puzzle takes over. You're not even trying to solve it anymore. Fascinating, really. Like, great training for lab research—looking at things in increasing levels of complexity.
Susie: Until what?
Jason: What do you mean?
Susie: Well, what happens in the end? Do you ever get to solve the puzzle?
Jason: Nah. When it comes down to it, research is just trying to quantify the complications of the puzzle.
Susie: You help people. I mean, you save lives and stuff.
Jason: Well, sure, I save a guy's life. And the poor slob goes out and gets hit by a bus.
Susie: Yeah, I guess so. Guess I just don't think about it that way. I guess you can tell I never took a course in poetry.
Jason: Well, if there's one thing we learned in 17th-century poetry, you can forget all about that—all that sentimental stuff. Enzyme kinetics was more poetic than Bearing's class. Besides, you can't just go around thinking about all that meaning of life garbage all the time. You'd just go nuts.
Susie: Well, do you believe in it?
Jason: Believe in what?
Susie: I don't know. The meaning of life garbage.
Jason: What do they teach you at nursing school?
The film eventually ends on the line, death thou shalt die. An irony if there ever was one. If you believe in eternal life in heaven or some other variation of that, death will eventually die. For all the sinners, death will eventually die as well, but they'll also be eternally dead.
What can we learn about the meaning of life garbage from the film? Though you may not understand the words you see, or even the situations you are in, the illustrations, the act of living, caring, taking out the trash are perhaps what give life meaning.
Did you see the movie? What did you think? Despite the high praise and various award nominations, we didn't particularly care for this film despite its brilliance. As such, it gets the following ratings:
Overall - 5
Meaning of Life Relevance - 4
Uniqueness – 4