Film on Friday- Patch Adams

So, an entire summer without any blockbusters to feast your eyes on at your local moving picture house; what is one to do? Well, I have decided to go through the gaps in my film catalogue, and check out a few crackers I may have missed first time around.

Robin Williams. Love him. Hate him. I totally understand both arguments and have often found his films edging far into the schmaltzy territory for my liking. But gems like ‘Dead Poets Society’, ‘The Awakenings’, and Good Will Hunting’ should surely be considered enough of a legacy to have left behind when he sadly committed suicide in 2014 to secure his work in the annals of celluloid history.

Patch Adams was released in 1998, and just sort of passed me by at the time. However, a few nights ago it popped up on Netflix, so I cuddled up on the sofa with Daniel Day-Lewis, our great dane, and filled a bowl with popcorn. Not for me, I’m on a diet, but Daniel won’t watch a film without his treats, and who am I to deny him such pleasure.

Based on the real-life doctor Hunter “Patch” Adams, (who hated the film by the way!), this incredible story is of a man who commits himself into a mental asylum, with what one assumes is depression. In his time there he realises that the detached treatment of the patients from the doctors (case numbers instead of names being used in their presence for example) and the lack of humanity and warmth appear to be making the patients worse. After making a breakthrough and connecting with his cellmate on a level no doctor has been able to do so up until now, he signs himself out of the asylum against the doctor’s wishes and enrols in medical school.

We are talking 1969, so you can imagine the firm hand of the doctors, and their words being law. Patch is a rule-breaker and a rebel from day one. And a clown. He even has the red nose. He finds a white coat and makes it on to the medical wards to interact with patients, which is solely reserved for third years students. A few lovely nurses keep his secret, as they see the effect his method is having on the patients. The professors find out and Patch’s place at Medical School is duly threatened. The fact that he is the top of the class only seems to annoy the professors who feel his clown-like behaviour makes a mockery of a noble profession.

I shall not say any more about the plot, if you want to watch it you’ll find out for yourself! If you don’t, I haven’t wasted any more of your time. What I would like to say though, is that this film moved me, as sadly I still see the formal, detached methods in place all too often when I need to visit a medical facility. Both here in Malta, and in London, I have been treated appallingly by members of the medical profession, who appeared to be totally lacking in empathy. I am aware it must be an incredibly stressful job, but you are dealing with people, not machines. Interestingly, Robin Williams also played another real-life doctor, Oliver Sachs, in ‘The Awakenings’, where again he fought to show humanity in every patient. If any of this takes your fancy, look up Oliver Sachs’ books. Possibly the greatest neuroscientist that ever lived.

I thoroughly enjoyed it as a film. Humour, romance, battling the odds, all the things I love. But something really hit a nerve with me. One thing that I came away with after viewing ‘Patch Adams’ is that the next time I feel I am not being listened to, or respected by a member of the medical profession, it will be brought to their attention. If every hospital were full of Patches, they would undoubtedly be places one would actually want to visit as opposed to dread going to. 

God Save the Queen. Lord bless you all. Same time next week fellow film lovers. 

Benjamin Milton
Benjamin Milton

Benjamin is a writer and actor who spends his time pirouetting between London and Malta. He was inexplicably drawn to the silver screen at a young age, and has seen more films than have been made. He will talk of nothing else given half a chance, so be prepared if you bump into him at Geo F Trumper in St. James having his moustache trimmed. His biggest indulgence is his fine collection of New & Lingwood silk dressing gowns, which is growing at an alarming rate. He looks fabulous in them