My Sister’s Keeper (2009)

Rated: PG-13 for mature thematic content, some disturbing images, sensuality, language and brief teen drinking.
Length: 109 minutes
Grade: BC+AB=B+
Budget: $30 million
Box Office: $116 million (49 U.S., 46 Intl., 21 DVD)

Written by: Jeremy Leven(The Notebook, Alex & Emma, Legend of Bagger Vance, Don Juan DeMarco) and Nick Cassavetes (Alpha Dog, Whatever We Do, Blow), based on the novel by Jodi Picoult.
Directed by: Nick Cassavetes (Alpha Dog, The Notebook, John Q, She’s So Lovely)
Starring: Abigail Breslin, Sofia Vassilieva, Cameron Diaz, Jason Patric, and Evan Ellingson.
With: Alec Baldwin and Joan Cusack

Things become very difficult for a family whose youngest daughter suddenly refuses to donate her kidney to her leukemic sister and seeks legal emancipation in order to avoid having to do so. This is despite that fact that she was genetically bred to be a compatible match for precisely this purpose.

Entertainment Value: B
There are a lot of things to like about this movie, and the most obvious of them is a fascinating plot which presents us with moving situations surrounding a child’s disease and challenges us to consider life and death issues. The acting is competent and the characters intriguing, however I felt a bit confused about the timeline being established in the beginning, especially as scenes from the present and the past were intermingled. Another defect was the inexplicable bullheadedness of the mother, although this is ironically one of the things I loved about the movie as well. More on that in a moment. But this is a good, if sad, movie worth seeing.

Superficial Content: C+
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sex/Nudity C+, Violence C+, Language C
There is one scene of teens in bed together, although later dialogue indicates they did not actually have sex. Because it’s about leukemia, there are constant depictions of blood, vomiting, and medical treatments, including a young girl being held down against her will. Profanity is just barely over PG, but properly PG-13 with one F exclamation, although it never seemed excessive. PG-13 is right here, if for no other reason than the themes and questions this movie raises. Younger kids will neither comprehend this movie nor care about it.

Significant Content: A
There are four main themes here. One is the moral dilemma of whether forcing someone to be a medical donor (of kidneys, blood cells, or even bone marrow) is ethical. A second is the always-present ethical dilemma of prolonging life versus achieving quality of life. The third theme is how major family troubles, such as a sick child, can so dominate the life of an otherwise healthy family that other necessary parts of parenting and life get neglected. But the big theme I was very surprised by was the presentation of a father and husband as the wise and virtuous parent in contrast with a controlling, obsessive mother. Even the male oncologist is portrayed as wise and compassionate. Given the dominance of anti-male movies and the even more noticeable drought of those which portray women negatively, this was both surprising and oddly refreshing.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
Because this movie is essentially about medical ethics and the dilemmas in that field, there’s certainly plenty to talk about. In addition, there’s a certain indirect value from this movie of simply showing us a family with one leukemic child as the backdrop to these other developments. This means that while the plot focuses on one thing, it’s simultaneously familiarizing us with the struggles of a group of people that should be shown. I always like movies which can expose me to something outside my experience base without really seeming to look directly at it. As art, it does a fantastic job of revealing the effects of a mother turning the life of her child into an idol which then leads her to crush anyone, including that child, who gets in her way.

Discussion Questions:
~Did you happen to notice the presentation of a wise father and a disordered mother as something unusual to see in a movie? Why do you think this is so rare? What are the effects of repeatedly presenting women as wise and men as fools?
~If you can describe it in words, what is Sara’s flaw? Compare what it is that makes her such a mess compared to her husband? What might a vibrant Christian faith have done for her in this situation?
~If you had a child diagnosed with leukemia, would you consider breeding a compatible sibling for her? At what point, if ever, would you consider allowing that child to make the decision to continue to undergo medical assistance for her sister? What do you think of Anna’s efforts to not be forced to donate her kidney? Is she obligated to help her sister in this particular and extraordinary way?
~When you were watching this movie, how did you think it would end?
~In the beginning, Anna talks about how the only time children are born are when people get drunk, fail to use contraception properly, or have trouble with conceiving on their own. What fourth category is obviously missing? What does her commentary say about our culture? How do you think people who can’t have children of their own view the decision by others to deliberately avoid having children?
~What do you think about the choice to have another child in order to have a donor when the value of having another child was not a sufficient reason to do so? What would it be like to be such a child? What does this movie have to say about the value of having more children, especially given everything that happens throughout the movie?
~How did you feel about the portrayal of teens being romantic and semi-sexual?
~Given the subtext of Jesse’s struggles, how important is it for families to pay attention to the needs and difficulties of all their children? Why does a child in this situation tend to hide or stifle what he thinks because of his guilt over only having such “small” problems in comparison with his sister? How can a parent’s inattention and lack of discipline communicate a lack of love?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~Anna meeting Judge DeSalvo and talking about her decision, including the apple juice incident.
~Kate meeting Taylor at her chemo treatment.
~The end scene with all the family members in Kate’s room. What does all their advice and encouragement to her show about their level of intimacy with her? What does her grace in responding to them show about her? What is the message of this scene, and why is it so powerful? Why is their behavior excusable to some degree whereas Sara’s is so deplorable? Do you know how to be truly useful when visiting someone in the hospital?
Overall Grade: B+
It’s good. Very good. It’s not nearly as hard to watch as you might expect, but it’s still quite moving.

1 comment:

Kerri McCann said...

I actually read this book before I watched the movie, and I wanted to share something that I found remarkable in the book. Each chapter of the book was written from the perspective of one of the characters. I believe that they did this in the movie, but the most remarkable thing about the book was that you do not see the story from the perspective of the sister who is sick until the very end of the book. Although the book is about this sister and her illness, by telling the story through the eyes of her family, it really brings out the effect that this has had on the other members of the family. There is a really strong theme of medical ethics when it comes to forced medical donation, but the theme that came out even stronger in the book for me was the impact that a medical condition of this nature has on a family. I thought it was brilliantly written, and I highly recommend it for anyone who is interested.