7AAEM651 Medicine on Screen: Doctors and Medical Care in Fiction Films, 1920s - Present
Dr Michael Clark, Centre for the Humanities and Health, King's College, London
Mr Brian Glasser, UCL Medical School
Credit value: 20 credits
Teaching: 1 x 3 hour seminar and screening
Assessment: 1 x 4,000 word essay
This module seeks to understand the complex relations between medicine and cinema by critically examining the large body of fiction films that feature doctors and medical care.
How have films portrayed doctors and other health professionals, and what does this tell us about societal expectations of – and misgivings about - medicine? What uses has medicine been put to in film? What kinds of narratives recur? Films are drawn from a wide range of periods, countries and genres – from Dr Kildare to Cristi Puiu (‘Death of Mr Lazarescu’) via Powell and Pressburger’s ‘A Matter of Life and Death’, Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Drunken Angel’ and Michael Crichton’s ‘Coma’!
In recent years, narratives of illness and medical practice have been subject to increasing interest and scrutiny by scholars in the relatively new field of ‘Medical Humanities’. Literary works have provided many nuanced accounts of the ways in which ill-health and medicine affect the lives of individuals, their families and communities. However, for much of the twentieth century, the cinema has provided mass audiences with an equally powerful and more readily accessible source of images and ideas about the health care process and how it has evolved over the past 60 years or so, including changes in medical and nursing practices and the experience of illness. Notwithstanding this, thus far medical films have attracted much less scholarly attention.
The study of medicine in film in this module will require close textual and contextual analysis of relevant films, based on a thorough understanding of the language of film and relevant aspects of film theory, as well as the comparative study of narrative in medicine, literature and film. Although the emphasis will be on representations and narratives of ‘medicine in general’, rather than on the systematic presentation of different aspects or elements of medicine, the module will feature a great many such elements, including medical education and apprenticeship; doctor-patient relationships; professional ambitions and rivalries, in particular the role of nurses in health care; medicine in war; medical experimentation and medical research; medicine in non-Western contexts; medical-ethical conflicts and dilemmas; doctors as patients; and the peculiar psychological and professional challenges and conflicts associated with the practice of psychiatry and psychotherapy. The module will also consider performative aspects in the learning and practice of medicine as represented in film.
Screenings and reading list