In this current health epidemic – and with the whole world now being overthrown by the Corona Virus, diving into films and series that offer a small window into the lives of those who live with different ranges of illnesses. Diseases, viruses, maladies, conditions, etc.. It’s quite difficult to imagine what it is actually like to live with cancer, cystic fibrosis, MS, severe eating disorders, psychological conditions – the list goes on and on. For many of the victims of these diseases, it’s almost impossible for others to understand what your life is like, how much of a struggle daily tasks, or even just living and functioning can be. Literature and film have paved the way for a far more in-depth exploration but also there is nothing that can fully show others a glimpse of what life is actually like when you’re so afflicted, except through the media of film. This idea has never been more relevant than it is now, given that the world has effectively been shut down due to a particularly aggressive and dangerous virus. Watching films and series that deal with this issue is one of the only ways to learn about these struggles, to become more empathetic and understanding of the lives of those who suffer.
This is a post I’ve wanted to write for quite some time as it’s probably the group or subgenre of film and television that I identify most with, living with chronic pain for the past eight years. The concepts of illness, disease, and maladies are very different when you’re the one afflicted. The further into the 2000s we get, the methodology of pain is something that has been reiterated and infiltrated films of all genres, even in the new Deadpool film which took me by surprise. We see Wade Wilson (Deadpool’s protagonist and title character) go through something heavy and his wise roommate tells him that pain can show you who you really are, how you react to it, how you deal with it and what you take from it, how you let it change you.
It’s a significant realization when you accept your condition and attempt to control or at least influence its impacts on you and your life, your temperament, mood, everything really. So this is a collection of films and series that each examines and explores the concept of illness in different ways. If you’re in the mood to feel….. this is the genre for you. If you’ve someone in your life that is dealing/ coping with some kind of illness then these can be like windows into the life of patients, give you a peek into the kind of world, and the reality that those afflicted have to live in. You can dualistically broaden your perspective and respective knowledge on a range of illnesses and the sociological and personal impacts/ reverberations they have on people in the world. From personal experience, these kinds of films and series can help give the loved ones or friends of someone suffering a much greater appreciation for what they are enduring, whichever illness or disease they’re suffering from.
These films can also help those who are afflicted with any kind of condition, illness, or any upsetting diagnosis. Seeing the lives of others who have similar afflictions is something that psychologically normalizes the experience, not entirely but your conscience finds it easier to wrap its head around something that initially seems insane and impossible and can then rationalize and accept a diagnosis easier. Representaiton in the media matters, Developmentally it’s beneficial to expose yourself to a range of different experiences with illness that people all over the world have endured, working your way through this list of films and series may sound counter-intuitive, but can psychologically make a difference to your attitude towards your illness and your mentality in coping with it. If you’ve never really suffered any health issues or prolonged illnesses then this is a pretty great way of opening your mind to the suffering of others, and also being moved by some of the incredible stories that have been made into films and series. Luckily for you there’s no need to search these out – we’ve created a list for you!
The Fault in Our Stars – This movie became an instant classic and a favorite worldwide long before it hit the screens, John Greene’s novel by the same name was released to incredible reviews. When it was adapted to film, they tweaked a few details, but it stayed fiercely loyal to the original. The protagonist in this film is a young girl, Hazel-Grace, who’s suffering from stage 4 Thyroid cancer. She meets the incredibly endearing and adorable Augustus in a support group for cancer victims and the story begins there. It’s impressively scripted, heart-wrenching, philosophical at times and a film that will impact you heavily.
Image from TV Weekly.com
Red Band Society – This series is particularly interesting as its set up was unique in structure. Instead of focusing solely on one person’s battle with a disease or illness, a group of kids who are permanent residents in a hospital is explored. Each suffering from something different and a range of ages, races, ethnicities, and beliefs. You get a grasp of the mentalities of kids who have spent more of their time in the hospital than out. The series offers a peek behind the curtain into the lives of patients, it also subconsciously explores pain and trauma on a different level, how it impacts and infiltrates their lives, and how it shapes them as humans.
Midnight Sun – Starring Bella Thorne and Patrick Schwarzenegger this film looks at an incredibly rare disease called “Xeroderma Pigmentosum” which is a rare genetic disorder of DNA where the ability to damage caused by UV (Ultraviolet) light. This was a disease that I had only heard mentioned in a colloquial term ‘Sunshine Allergy’ is what some cultures used to call it. Witnessing our protagonist (Thorne) go through life-limited and in and out of hospital constantly was something I found easy to relate to. It explores the dynamics of a single-parent household with a sick child. Even though there weren’t many correlations past the sickness, it had elements knitted into the structure and aesthetics of it that reminded me of the book ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’. Seeing the world through the eyes of someone afflicted with such a debilitating and life-altering disease gives you a new perspective. It takes on the effects that such a condition can have, not only on the patient but on everyone in her life was refreshing and eloquently written.
To The Bone – This Netflix creation came out in 2017 to mixed critical reviews, there was some initial negative media coverage as the star Lily Collins who portrays a young girl dealing with an eating disorder, had previously endured anorexia. The media felt it was inappropriate and even dangerous to have someone who’d previously struggled with an eating disorder to portray someone who was and to lose a significant amount of weight. Upon hearing Collins’ response to these a lot of the worries were undercut, she also argued that it brought a lot more credence and weight (metaphorically) to the role to have someone portraying a struggle they personally have dealt with.
The story follows Ellen, who is anorexic and falls in the category of those suffering slight delusions in that she, as many do, believe that she doesn’t have a problem, that she has it ‘under control’. Learning to accept these false truths is one of the uphill battles for our protagonist. It’s a refreshing take on eating disorders as it actually takes a look into the psychology behind these things, recent studies show that people with eating disorders are not commonly doing it to be ‘thin’ necessarily, but to avoid dealing with a trauma, or psychological issue that they blind themselves to by incurring this disorder. It looks at and explores several characters with similar afflictions and gives a range of disorders some examination.
Chasing Life – With two seasons this series explores the challenges of dealing with cancer at a young age primarily through the protagonist April, who at 24 years old finds out she is ill. Learning to accept her new reality and attempt to reconcile it with the life you want to be able to live is one of the uphill battles. It also examines the impact it has on family members and close friends. It’s one that also explores the reality of adjusting to life’s changes, attending support groups, accepting that you need help. Interestingly, at least to me, was the exploration of what to do when your cancer leaves. Thinking that you were going to die takes away the need to figure out your life plan or what you want out of it, to do with your life. Having that carpet ripped out from under you leaves people at a loss, it’s one of the biggest adjustments for patients in remission and the series explores this.
A Walk To Remember – This film was one that practically coined the subgenre we’re exploring. Starring Mandy Moore and Shane West, A Walk to Remember is the tale of a high-school girl who’s privately dealing with and coping with terminal leukemia. Her path crosses with one of the popular guys at her school and through this tale society, Health, discrimination, and bullying is explored.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower – The film that Emma Watson brought to life after her long-time role reprisal as Hermione Granger in Harry Potter, this was her first role after finishing the final installment of the Potter franchise. Based on a best-selling book of the same title, the film follows a teenage boy called Charlie, who deals with social anxiety, paranoia, and depression. The film tackles myriad sociological and cultural issues such as depression, mental health, repression, trauma, suicide, discrimination, bullying, homophobia, and intolerance. Its structure is knitted similarly to a coming-of-age tale but is done so in a fairly unique structure, the film has several chuckles throughout but is primarily a drama. It’s a heavier subject matter than you’d expect – even having seen the trailer, but definitely worth a watch.
Five Feet Apart – Created by Justin Bandolini – He brought to life the novel by the same name. An incredible story about two teens with Cystic Fibrosis that literally breaks your heart. I went into this film not knowing too much about the condition. Finding out exactly how detrimental to the health of those afflicted can become by simply being near another patient was an eye-opener. The only people who could ever truly understand the struggle you’re entire life is and you can have any physical contact. Ever. The closest any are allowed is six feet, this film explores that and everything that encompasses the daily fight against Cistic Fibrosis. Gloriously cast and impeccable direction, this film will open your eyes to make harsh truths that those who suffer chronic conditions deal with on a daily basis; whilst also breaking your heart in the best way possible.
With all the chaos that’s going on in the world at the moment, learning more about the kinds of health struggles that millions face every day seems like something worthwhile to do with a handful of your hours during this Beckettian, & seemingly endless waiting. Stay safe, protect yourself and others by following the rules!