Wit is one of the first films I ever saw that made me realize that movies can go beyond entertainment, that all actors are not created equal, and it’s not a requirement to leave a movie feeling happy, or enthralled with explosions and gun fights. After my first viewing, I ran to my dial-up internet connection, confused as to why I had never heard of Emma Thompson. Why hadn’t she been shoved in my face like Angelina Jolie or Demi Moore? I was thankful to find that she was an established stage actor and had, in fact, received many awards and recognitions for her talent.

Wit is directed by Mike Nichols, who also directed Closer and Charlie Wilson’s War. It’s based on an award winning play written by Margaret Edson. Emma Thompson and Nichols co-wrote the screenplay, and it’s really fantastic. Vivian Bearing (Emma Thompson) is the preeminent scholar on the fifteenth century poet John Dunn. She’s spent her life focusing on the cryptic poet who chose to write mostly about ‘salvation anxiety’ (the fact most people know they’re sinners and are apprehensive about meeting their maker since they realize they’re sinners). In the very first scene of the movie, Vivian is diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer. There is no stage five. Her doctors Kelekian (Christopher Loyd) and Jason, a former student of hers (played by Jonathan Woodward) recommend an aggressive treatment of chemo.

The film is a hard one to watch, but a beautiful one at that. Through the course of her hospitalization, Vivian frequently addresses the camera and audience, reliving moments throughout her life. She’s disparaged by all the memories of her denying her students human kindness, an ironic fact now that’s all she seeks, but is denied by her doctors who see her as merely a research subject, not a human. These flashbacks are brilliantly filmed, sometimes she’s her bald, cancer-ridden self as she remembers lecturing her students. Occasionally, the people she recalls show up in her hospital rooms and the memory is re-enacted there. Nichols makes a brilliant contrast between her past, healthy life, full of colors where she denies herself to feel, to be human, and the sterile, white hospital rooms where she’s finally evolving emotionally. It’s a profound tragedy with the highest rewards ready for those who are willing to commit to watching a brilliant, and regretful woman slowly dying.


Rottentomatoes: 78%Cream of the Crop: Not enough reviews for a score

A trailer was difficult to find, here’s a clip.

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5 Responses to “Wit”
  1. Mary says:

    I loved Wit and try to get people to watch it when I saw a few years ago. It’s a hard sell though when you describe what it is about. The comment I made about it on my blog are ….”The experience of watching this movie [Away from Her] reminded me of watching Wit, with Emma Thompson who dies slowly and painfully from cancer. Both are not fun but are incredibly powerful and beautifully made movies.”

  2. Blake says:

    I thought this movie was incredible. Well, the last thirty minutes that I saw. You’re right: film is more than just entertainment. But I still like MI3.

  3. Jessica says:

    Hooray for the gateway movie!

  4. Care says:

    When did you see this? recently? and which Emma Thompson movie will you see next?

  5. Blake says:

    I saw this movie for the first time in 1999 I think, right when it came out. Then I just happened to see at the library last week, and checked it out again. I don’t have a specific Emma Thompson movie in my movie queue, but I particularly like Dead Again, Love Actually, and Stranger than Fiction.

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