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Thursday, January 28, 2010:
What I'm watching (movie): Something the Lord Made (2004)
Editorial Reviews (from Amazon)
Something the Lord Made recounts the relationship between Dr. Alfred Blalock (Alan Rickman) and Vivian Thomas (Mos Def). It begins in 1930s Nashville when imperious cardiac surgeon Blalock hires Thomas, an African American carpenter, as his janitor. When the latter reveals a passion for medicine and facility with surgical instruments, Blalock promotes him to lab tech. Thomas isn't given a raise, works side jobs to make ends meet, and is expected to be grateful. Along the way, he follows Blalock from Vanderbilt to Johns Hopkins, where they save thousands of lives through their pioneering work, but will Thomas ever get any credit?

The film provides a satisfying answer to that question. Joseph Sargent (A Lesson Before Dying) directs with subtlety and intelligence, while Rickman and Mos Def are in top form, often underplaying where most actors would do otherwise. Something the Lord Made won the 2004 Emmy for outstanding made-for-TV movie. --Kathleen C. Fennessy

Product Description

(Drama) Something the Lord Made tells the emotional true story of two men who defied the rules of their time to launch a medical revolution, set against the backdrop of the Jim Crow south. Working in 1940s Baltimore on an unprecedented technique for performing heart surgery on "blue babies," Dr. Alfred Blalock (Alan Rickman) and lab technician Vivien Thomas (Mos Def) form an impressive team. As Blalock and Thomas invent a new field of medicine, saving thousands of lives in the process, social pressures threaten to undermine their collaboration and tear their friendship apart.

I cannot recall how this movie ended up in my Netflix queue, but not that I'm complaining that it did. In fact I enjoyed it very much. I am a fan of Alan Rickman and this movie did nothing to change that. There's just some...quality about him that makes it hard to look away from the screen when he's performing, even when he's portraying an evil character.

The premise of the movie is pretty self-explanatory, so I won't go into that. But I will say that I was impressed by by Alan Rickman and Mos Def in this film. As Dr. Blalock, Rickman was appropriately arrogant yet sympathetic at the same time. He had to have balls to believe in his abilities, but at the same time he truly cared about people, and was determined not to let any more babies die, not if he could do something to prevent it. Together with Vivien Thomas, wonderfully played by Mos Def, they do extensive research and tests to perfect their technique. Being the animal lover that I am, it's hard to consider that the two were using animals to do most of their tests. From a logical standpoint, especially considering the times and limitations back then, I can understand the necessity of it, but at the same time, it wasn't something that I could let myself think about too closely.

As you can imagine, it's difficult to watch a movie where African Americans are treated worse than second-class citizens. I cannot fathom how it must feel for someone to watch that and see how their parents or grandparents were treated for no other reason than the color of their skin. Vivien Thomas, as portrayed by Mos Def, was an intelligent, calm, determined man who loved working in medicine, and made some amazing discoveries during his time that he was not recognized for until much later in life, even though Dr. Blalock was commended for the research and procedures he perfected right along with Vivien by his side. It was many decades before he was acknowledged as one of the pioneers in bypass surgery. A bittersweet victory, some might say.

The movie is very powerful and moving, and really enjoyed the actor's performances and how they both stayed true to form. Dr. Blalock and Mr. Thomas were not best friends who hung out together outside of work. Instead they kept their interaction limited strictly to the laboratory and operating room. It was evident there was much respect between these two men who were dedicated to medicine, but also an awareness of their social differences. Dr. Blalock was not one to fight for human rights outside of the need for exemplary medical care. He was not concerned with Vivien's struggles, as long as they didn't affect the work, he was completely fine with ignoring the reality of Vivien's circumstances. Yet what they accomplished was quite amazing when you consider just how far medicine and science has come in the last 70+ years. Techniques and procedures that are common and frequent were not even around back in those days. Rather mind-boggling to think about, really. Something else to think about: when this film began, it was right around the start of the Great Depression, where opportunity was scarce if not non-existent for many people.

I would definitely recommend this movie if you're in the mood for a moving story based on true events and real people who changed the world. It's not a particularly light-hearted film, but it is uplifting and inspiring to watch. I am glad it ended up in my Netflix queue. Powerful stuff.



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