Wit (2001) – “And death shall be no more, death, thou shalt die”


Where do literature and medicine intersect?  Mike Nichols 2001 movie Wit, based on the prizewinning play by Margaret Edson, tests that, as a literature scholar tries to make sense of her impending death.

Several writers speak of finding meaning in the last days before death. For Vivian, the power of words and language help put things in perspective without losing herself, as she faces the inevitable outcome of her situation.

Stage 4 ovarian cancer means that the cancer has metastasised to other parts of the body away from the ovaries. The 5-year-survival rate is 5% in that case. Emma Thompson (as Vivian Bearing) is authentic as she deals with the harsh side effects of chemotherapy, her grim prognosis, and as she questions her life before and after the diagnosis. Her physical strength is challenged every step of the way, sbut he opens up to us, becomes vulnerable, exposed, but retains her mental equilibrium by reasoning with her mind every step of the way.

More info

  • John Donne’s poem – Death be not proud
  • Words as a surgeon’s tool – Neurosurgeon Paul Kalanthi wrote of his own impending death in When Breath Meets Air – but also of how you might speak to patients and families about impending death.
  • Ovarian cancer – cancer research uk site
  • Featured image – scene from the movie where a story from Vivian’s childhood is read to her by her friend on the hospital bed (source).

Contributed by

Lekaashree Rambabu

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