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Dialogues between Medicine and Humanism: Progressive Discourse of Illness in Recent Films

Sat, June 25, 3:00 to 4:50pm, Shikokan (SK), Floor: 1F, 106


Though “a unique dialogue [between doctor and patient] … of an old medical humanism” is ridiculed by Michel Foucault in his preface to _The Birth of the Clinic_ (1963), Foucault keeps questioning humanism but “never abandons ethical inquiry.” A similar inquiry leads us to study the discourses of illness in recent films, East and West, in hope of discovering new dialogues between doctor and patient, between medical science and the humanities. The analyses of three award-winning American and Japanese movies, _Wit_ (2001), _Memories of Tomorrow_ (2006), and _Still Alice_ (2014), map out the changes in modern medical humanism.
The cold, cruel medical personages portrayed in Mike Nichols’ _Wit_ raised so much public awareness of health care problems that a humanistic project, Wit Film Project, is created to advance medical education on end-of-life care. The audience’s sympathy with the dying cancer patient, Professor Vivian Bearing, in _Wit_ has been echoed by those who watch how Alzheimer’s disease robs Saeki and Alice of their jobs, their dignity, and their memories respectively in Yukihiko Tsutsumi’s _Memories of Tomorrow_ and Richard Glatzer’s and Wash Westmoreland’s _Still Alice_, as all of the three films probe into the patients’ fear, shame, and despair from the patients’ points of view. One obvious difference lies in the positive representation of the medical profession in the latter two. Both Saeki’s and Alice’s doctors are depicted as warm and encouraging. And the nursing homes in the movies look colorful and comfortable, filled with helpful staff—a sharp contrast to the grey, indifferent hospital in _Wit_. Despite other issues that may complicate the hopeful final notes in these two films, we still envision a possible future of progressive dialogues between medicine and humanism.