Yet again, I found myself awake in the middle of the night. Tonight it was 3am. I didn’t take my sleeping medicines, for the sole reason that I thought I was tired enough to sleep through the night without them. And for the fact that I hate taking them in the first place. But alas, as with every single night, I always think I can do things, like sleep, without a little help. And every single time, I don’t sleep. Tonight I managed to get 4 hours. Better than nothing I guess.
So, I decided to catch up on some shows, and watch a movie, “Cake” with Jennifer Aniston. I have heard many rumblings about this movie, both good and bad, and have hesitated to watch it for a number of reasons. Ultimately, curiosity got the best of me and I rented it on Amazon Prime tonight, or this morning I guess you could say.
“Cake” is a story about a woman (Jennifer Aniston) that lives with immense chronic pain. Her pain is a result of a terrible accident that severely wounded her and killed her young son. The movie doesn’t go much into the accident and how it happened, but you tend to presume from the rest of the plot and dialogue.
From Wikipedia: “”Claire” is an acerbic but pleasant woman who has become embittered with her life after surviving a car accident, which killed her child and left her in chronic pain. She becomes fascinated with Nina, a woman in her chronic pain support group, who recently committed suicide, by visiting her home and befriending her husband and son. Together, Claire and Nina’s husband deal with their losses.”
In a general sense, I think it’s a good thing to have Hollywood recognize the topic of chronic pain. At the very least, it’s a step in the right direction. To my knowledge, there have been few movies that deal with chronic pain and chronic illness. Aside from “Cake,” I can think of the following: “Garden State,” “Jack,” “Mask,” and “Theory of Flight.” I’m sure there are a few others, but those are what I know. Regardless, the list is short, and the recognition is skewed.
Back to “Cake.” While Aniston’s character does a decent job showcasing the physicality of chronic pain, I found the overall plot, as well as the reality of the situation to fall short.
What I believe the movie got right: constant pain and symptoms, desperation, feeling like nothing will help ease the pain, pain clinics, support groups, the lack of understanding from others, and the toll that chronic health issues takes on the relationships around you.
What I believe the movie got wrong: lying, pain pills, alcohol, suicidal thoughts, acute accident and chronic pain, chronic illness and chronic pain.
Let me elaborate on my critiques of the movie. While I do believe touching on chronic pain is a step in the right direction in Hollywood, I was disappointed to see so many of the stereotypes of chronic illness and chronic pain shape the main characters and people’s perception of them. Yes, chronic illness and chronic pain is difficult to understand. Yes, it can be exhausting on an outsider to see the person next to you never get better. Yes, it is very easy to feel depressed and it is very easy to get into the habit of taking pain pills and becoming hooked on them.
Nevertheless, those facts do not define a person with chronic pain or illness. In fact, I find it kind of insulting to insinuate that we are all pill poppers and suicidal. I am not trying to downplay the necessity of pain medication or advocate against it. Nor am I trying to make light of depression and suicidal thoughts. I would never dream of that. However, I am trying to make the point that the situation is not so black and white. You are not either healthy or in so much pain that you want to kill yourself. Yes, I’m in pain every day. Yes, it’s exhausting and depressing. But no, a suicidal thought has honestly never crept into my mind. And I’m thankful for that. Additionally, any pain medications I might have are for emergencies only. When I’m in a flare so bad that getting out of bed, or really doing anything but just laying there, hoping to just maybe fall asleep–that’s when I might consider taking pain medication.
The biggest critique I have of the film, other than the use of drugs and alcohol, is the type of chronic pain and the portrayal to the media when promoting the movie. Everything I heard from the media and the trailers was about how the film was going to shed light on chronic pain and what so many people deal with every day. It was going to show illnesses that people have zero control over. That part of the promotion made me excited to see a huge Hollywood star take a risk on such a common, but almost taboo topic. Yet, there is a huge difference between chronic pain from an accident and chronic pain from a chronic illness.
I would love to see a movie made about fibromyalgia. Or how about a movie made about an autoimmune disease. Let’s shed light on the battle with your own body. Let’s show what it feels like to have no control over a system that is supposed to protect you from harm and illness. Instead, it turns on you and attacks you. What about a movie that shows how susceptible we are to developing more than one chronic illness once we have developed one.
My guess is that it’s difficult to portray those diseases. I can tell you one thing–unless an actor or actress actually has a chronic illness, there will be no way they can accurately portray it. So let’s find someone who does.
Maybe it’s desperation. And maybe it’s my own battle to overcome, but it is just so tempting to have someone feel like you feel for a few days. You reach out and you search and you search for that understanding from those around you–but it’s lost. And it’s not their fault.
I don’t know. I guess my point is that while “Cake” was a decent movie, and the physical part of chronic pain was showcased relatively well, I was disappointed that instead of real scenarios, we saw stereotypes being acted out.
Like I said, we’re not all nasty, pill-popping addicts. Some of us actually want to feel normal, even if the reality of that is next to impossible.