Nothing But A Comma

(A professor, denouncing this punctuation:
Death be not proud; Death thou shalt die!)

Nothing but a breath, a comma, separates life from life everlasting.
Very simple, really.
With the original punctuation restored, death is no longer
something to act out on a stage with exclamation marks.
It is a comma, a pause.
And death shall be no more, death thou shalt die.

Emma Thompson, the reason why Sense and Sensibility is my favorite movie, Emma Thompson of Much Ado, Henry V       and…  and…  

Emma Thompson played her most convincing role yet as Vivian Bearing, a scholar of 17th century poetry, an expert on John Donne.  Wit is the story of Professor Bearing’s journey through advanced ovarian cancer. 

This movie is heavy.  Heartbreakingly heavy.  It’s the kind of movie that saturates you.  Words, cancer and Emma.  Most of the movie is shot as a monologue with Emma talking directly to the camera.  Thompson is a marvel at giving each syllable its due. 

One thing that can be said for an eight month course
of cancer treatment: it is highly educational.
I am learning to suffer.

Audra McDonald plays the part of Suzie, Vivian’s primary nurse.  Fabulous.  She looked so familiar and it finally came to me.  Audra is also an opera singer.  My husband and I both fell in love with Audra McDonald one quiet Christmas afternoon, watching her sing.  You will love the way Suzie cares – in all its meanings — for Vivian.  How profound is a dollop of lotion and a hand massage.

I am a scholar.
Or I was…when I had shoes…or eyebrows.

When Vivian’s aged mentor visits her in the hospital and reads her Runaway Bunny, I was sobbing.  It demonstrates that sometimes simple words are the best.  It reminded me of a bedside scene in Bleak House where a young woman simply says the Lord’s Prayer. 

Words.  You will never forget the meaning of soporific.  My old friend concatenation had its half-second of fame.  Even the name of the protagonist is interesting:  Vivian – which evokes all those Latinate vivo- words – means lively.  Bearing gives the sense of what she is doing with all the cancer treatment: bearing it. 

Why is such a sorrowful movie called Wit?  John Donne is called a metaphysical wit, the word wit used in the sense of keen discernment or exceptional intelligence. 

The words of Donne did me in.  Just like watching Julie & Julia makes you want to cook up a wonderful meal, watching Wit makes me yearn to learn Donne, to have his potent poetry memorized.  I’m particularly interested in his Devotions upon Emergent Occasions.   The first thing I did after the credits had rolled and I had picked the puddle of myself up from my chair was go to Amazon and put the DVD (only 5.99!) in my shopping cart.  Clicking on the picture below takes you there.

…and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest…

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12 thoughts on “Nothing But A Comma

  1. Your comments reminded me of one of the last times together with my friend who died of cancer this past March. There were about 5 of us sitting around her, while she lay on her sofa. One was filing her nails, one was putting lotion on her legs and feet and the rest of us were, well, just sitting….mostly with our own thoughts. Mine were, I wish I had the nerve to ask her how it feels–the physical pain AND the mental pain of knowing you’re dying. She looked straight at me, piercingly, and said, “So how are YOU doing?” It was like she wanted me to tell her my thoughts, but I didn’t want to in front of all the others. I just said, “I’m okay,” like I usually do. I hope that when I’m dying, my family/friends won’t be afraid to talk straightforwardly to me like that.

  2. Dear Carol, Yes, Audra MacDonald as the nurse is fantastic!  And yes, Emma’s acting is amazing.  But you are made of tougher stuff than I am because I could never put myself through that movie again.  I was sobbing uncontrollably by the end; the saddest part was that she died so alone and without hope.  John Donne is NOT ENOUGH when cancer is happening to you. 

  3. @hopeinbrazil – I’m gonna be late for work, Hope, but as usual you made such an important point.  One that was floating around my head and should have been in the review.  I love John Donne because I love the Christ he loved.  And the comma between life and life everlasting could also be the comma between life and death everlasting.  I think her isolation was the fruit of her choice to live in research instead of community.  Remember at the beginning her teacher said, “enough research, go out and talk to people” and she ended up at the library?  I think that’s what made the visit from the teacher stand out so powerfully; other than Audra, it was the only human/humane contact she had.I watched this alone (my husband was working late).  I so want to watch it with him because this is a movie to talk over and his thoughts will be so worth hearing.Yikes!  I’m gonna have to work with dried-on-the-vine hair!

  4. Steve and I will have to find and watch this movie.  We can sob together. I knew after two dates that I wanted to marry Steve because  he had memorized huge chunks of Donne’s poetry and he spoke them to me.  Even now, after almost 27 years of marriage I sometimes turn to him upon waking up in the morning and ask him for “Busy old fool, unruly sun…” and he recites it for me.

  5. I happened to have caught this on TV one year back before NetFlix.  It is a great movie.I realized today that I had missed your blog for quite some time, and then came here to find out that Bloglines has been letting me down. 

  6. Oh, Carol.  Wit was in my Netflix pile on my desk when I read this…a rewatch for me.  Emma Thompson is my hero, she is my favorite, and this piece of work is undeniably her best (that I have seen.)  With  my mother so ill, I can say I literally gasped in sobs throughout this time’s viewing.  At the end, when the prof. gets up on her bed and reads MWBrown, well, I just came undone.  Totally undone.  The isolation of her life is so painful to observe…and the ability of the prof. to just step in (hop up) and BE THERE for someone who is dying…well, that is a GIFT to this precious woman.The only part of the movie that I found grating was the doctor idiocy.  It has not been my experience to work with researchers, so maybe I am sheltered from a harsh reality, but our experience has been so different.  Oncologists that hold back the tears when explaining a diagnosis, GI docs who go above and beyond the call of duty to save my mom’s life.  That is my norm, and Wit made me more grateful than ever for that.One more thing we need to talk about in SF (-:  Watch it with dh, I will do the same, and then we can talk next month.Love,  DI

  7. Thanks for the wonderful review. I watched this movie a good while ago and loved it even though it was so terribly sad. Thanks for reminding me of it now. Found you from A Circle of Quiet, by the way. Have a blessed day! B.

  8. @Upsidedownb – B.  Any friend of Di’s (even if it is a cyber-friendship) is a friend of mine.  Thank you for your kind words.  Terribly sad is an apt description.  I think the beauty of the nurse’s kindness and the professor’s visit is the light in the movie contrasted with the stark isolation and remoteness of Vivian’s life.  

  9. Just finished watching, thanks to your review. Wow! So many thoughts swirling around in my head. You did a wonderful summary and many of the things you mentioned also stood out to me. The only one I might add is her reference to the physical frame as a “dustjacket”. I thought that so eloquent.I was struck, too, by the scene with the mentor reading the Runaway Bunny. What Vivian craved and needed at that moment was simple comfort rather than Donne’s poetry. A sort of paradox. Thanks as always for pointing this one out to me!

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