Film Nerd’s Choice: Patch Adams
Director: Tom Shadyac
Cast: Robin Williams, Daniel London, Monica Potter, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bob Gunton, Peter Coyote
Synopsis: This story is (loosely) based on the real life Hunter “Patch” Adams, a medical student who rebelled at the way medical practice is generally performed and the stranglehold insurance companies had on the industry preventing the common person getting high quality care. The comedy of the film comes from his quirky and unique methods, believing comedy and happiness is a necessary part of treatment. Behind these bones of story is a film with themes of ambition and being true to yourself.
Before following the path to medical research, I was instead following a path to being a medical practitioner. Patch Adams was perhaps not the best written , directed, or shot film I have ever seen, but at the time for me it was the most inspirational. Williams’ version of Patch I cannot say is authentic to the man himself, having seen him in interviews subsequent to the release of this film. It is Robin Williams playing himself, and hamming it up for laughs. Thankfully there is more to the film than this though. It features moments of great emotional depth, and it highlights the motivations that would lead anyone to a career in medicine. Simply put, as stated in the film “If you treat a disease, you win, you lose. If you treat a person, I guarantee you win no matter what the outcome”.
It at no times depicts the choices that have to be made as easy. Some of the images in the film are the types of images that we all in our hearts withdraw from… a ward filled with bald children needs little more explanation than that (and if what I have heard is true, those scenes featured real child patients… controversial at the time, but you can tell they enjoyed themselves, and isn’t that something great in the end?). We are also confronted with a bitter, middle-aged man who does not have long, and the highs and lows of working towards a cure with the mentally unstable. The film also balances different points of view on the best methods of learning medicine. Seymour Hoffman plays a fellow student who feels that Patch’s antics make a joke of what he has striven for over many years, and Gunton’s acerbic Dean is a man who above all prizes order, and an “it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. These are two of the powerful performances in the film.
For me the strongest single performance was from Monica Potter’s love interest. She is introduced as the typical early feminist type, having to work harder than many other students for credibility in a field dominated by men. Yet her character arc is amazing,a nd at times heart-wrenching. She gives a powerful performance to match this, and it is disappointing for me that in her few other acting roles she did not match this level of accomplishment and as such has somewhat vanished into obscurity now.
My desires to be a medical practitioner are well in the past. I took up research after discovering that I found it fascinating, and that I loved the process of discovery. It has the potential to affect many lives, even though the people who benefit will probably never know my name or attribute any credit to me. However when I first started on that path, I could not watch this film for a long time, as I was no longer following a career where I “treat the person”. But I think in that time I was looking at this film too narrowly. You can treat people every day of your life, in respecting and caring for your friends and family. So this is a film specifically for medical practitioners and students of that field, but it has messages in it that are important for all of us in our day-to-day lives. Patch Adams is a film that reminds me of events in my past, but it does not have to be restricted to those memories.
4 stars out of 5