Wednesday, July 30, 2008

#32: The Hospital


The Hospital
Directed by Arthur Hiller
Written by Paddy Chayefsky
Released December 14, 1971

"We cure NOTHING! We heal NOTHING!"

With an opening sequence that follows an elderly man's admission to the titular hospital to his misdiagnosis to his fatal reaction from mis-prescribed medications, straight through to the pleased look on his inept young doctor's face as he realizes there is now an empty hospital bed on which he can screw a co-worker, The Hospital had a sick grin plastered to my face. Maybe it's because I work in a hospital and therefore have the kind of gallows sense of humor required to survive a job like that, but if you don't at least get a chuckle out the freeze frame moment where the title hits the screen as a sick old man in the foreground sleeps through the young doctor's dalliance in the background, you may as well turn this movie off now.

For a black comedy with more than a hint of satire, you couldn't ask for a better pedigree than combining the writing of Paddy Chayefsky (Network), the direction of Arhtur Hiller (Silver Streak, The Out-of-Towners) and the impeccable acting of the legendary George C. Scott (Patton, Dr. Strangelove).

The movie is 24 hours in the life of Scott's Dr. Bock, whose suicidal impulses keep getting interrupted by an apparent serial murderer roaming through his halls. Scott is nothing short of incredible here, whether stalking the halls tearing angrily into the fabric of the hospital establishment or giving a powerful monologue on the meaning of impotence.

Chayefsky and Hiller both nail the dichotomy of life in the 24-hour living and breathing entity that is the hospital. The day shift moves at a non-stop pace, with directives and drama coming from all angles. Then comes the night shift, where the quietude gives one time to ponder the kind of questions and dilemmas of the soul that most people don't have the desire to ponder.

As if the thoughts of suicide aren't enough, Dr. Bock has his world turned upside down by the appearance of a young idealist played by Diana Rigg.

For the first 2/3rds of The Hospital, I was along for the ride, but I have to admit that after the identity of the murderer had been revealed, the movie took a strange turn and my investment in it was almost nullified. Whether it was too unrealistic or too cynical, the curveball caught me way off gaurd. While I did appreciate the ironies revealed by the killer's methods, some of the characters' motivations were fairly unbelievable, even for a satire.

That said, The Hospital is still miles ahead of the unrealistic garbage spewed on television shows like Grey's Anatomy. In under two hours it manages to say more about the state of hospitals, the healthcare industry, modern medicine and bureaucracy than a show like that could even be bothered to address.

For more on The Hospital:
- Movie information at IMDB and Wikipedia
- Get it on DVD at

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