Death, Thou Shalt Die


In a scene from the movie Wit, Emma Thompson is playing a college student studying the holy sonnets of the poet John Donne. Her professor returns the paper saying that it is far below her potential. Thompson replies that she will return to the library to make improvements. The professor says no, don’t go to the library, but go to your friends. The implicit message is that to understand these densely packed and deeply spiritual poems, she would have to live and confront life and not books.

She goes, nevertheless, to the library.

But Fate (God? the movie is ambiguous about this) pursues her, draws her kicking and screaming into life through the process of dying, and she finds herself humanized not by her academic pursuits, but by a faithful nurse and her old professor and a children’s tale of God’s unrelenting pursuit.

This movie, a showcase for one of my favorite actresses, brings together themes of life and death, it examines the ways in which we both humanize and objectify human beings, and it juxtaposes the esoteric poetry of John Donne and the simple warmth of The Runaway Bunny, all in what is a captivating and entertaining two hour film. Anything that can do all of that and still keep its audience deserves to be seen.

I cannot imagine what it would be like to watch this if someone I knew had died from cancer, so one needs to know one’s emotional limits. But with that caveat, I cannot recommend this film highly enough.

After the film, I was compelled to call my daughter, a hospice nurse, to express my admiration for what she does. So, take note of any nurse you know. The movie will have you bowing at her (or his) feet.