For anyone versed in aging issues, it’s not surprising Bill Murray, the comedian, got into trouble on the set of Atul Gawande’s novel turned movie, Being Mortal. What we know as of now is that Searchlight Pictures suspended production on the set after a complaint about “inappropriate behavior.” Bill Murray says, “I did something I thought was funny, and it wasn’t taken that way.” We don’t know what that “something” is, but it is considered significant enough for the film company to halt production.
What Bill Murray Did On The Set Of Being Mortal
Although we don’t know what occurred, we do know everyone was working on a movie involving charged subject matter. The book Being Mortal explores how American physicians interact with patients confronting terminal diseases. In other words, dying patients. By a certain age, we’ve all experienced the death of friends and family. Some of us are traumatized by the experience, and all of us are left diminished.
What Doctors Are Taught About Death
Dr. Gawande’s says Doctors aren’t taught to deal with dying patients any better than the rest of us are. He also explains doctors are taught to diagnose and fix things. But terminal illnesses and old age can’t be fixed. This is aggravated when the patient’s most common request is, “Keep me alive, Doctor.” The net results are helpless doctors and soon-to-be disappointed patients.
Doctors learn the mechanics of dying, the scientific explanation. As Dr. Gawande says, “We paid our medical tuition to learn about the inner process of the body, the intricate mechanisms of pathologies, and the vast trove of discoveries and technologies that have accumulated to stop them.” In other words, doctors are technicians trained to diagnose and treat.
Doctors Aren’t Taught The Human Experience
Doctors don’t know the human part. The part about mortality and an individual’s journey toward their own end. Mortality has been the realm of poets, writers, and philosophers since the beginning of time. Despite working closely and intimately with the terminally ill or dying, the nurses, hospice workers, and other medical staff learn what the poets and writers learn, not the Doctors. Life is every day, even in the process of dying. Therefore, whatever the individual may feel: the pain, the loneliness, the fear, the immobility, even the exuberance, is all part of the human experience. Learning about this process and developing a new way to talk to patients about this journey is the basis of Dr. Gawande’s novel.
Doctors don’t get to hear about their patient’s life or write their stories. It would be like a gardener stopping his gardening to fall in love with one rose bush. Infatuated and absorbed all his attentions on the one bush. In other words, the garden would quickly fall into disarray. The beauty decimated by neglect and mismanagement. It’s easy to forget we learned to love the garden because someone once stopped and told the rose bush’s story. That’s why doctors need to learn to speak the truth to patients about death. It will also require them to listen more and administer to nonmedical areas of the patient. All part of Dr. Gawande’s journey.
Actors Are Narrowly Trained
Actors are also narrowly trained. Their school is a school for similitude. Actors play primarily in what the psychologists call the Big 5 personality traits: extroversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism. Although the best actors can riff on these themes into infinity, the riffs must resemble someone the audience recognizes and believes.
This is why foreign films often play easily in other countries. Emotions like love, hate, greed, and selflessness; and concerns like family’s safety, the thrill of a chase, and the fear of being hunted are universal. It’s a small world, after all.
Bill Murray is a comic actor. What he did on set was probably comic. But not perceived that way.
Movie Sets Are Magical Places
A movie set is a magical place. A strange place of make-believe and reality. A hotel-like team sets up and manages the day-to-day needs of the people on set. They take care of the food, drink, changing rooms, sleeping coaches, and restrooms. Then there’s the film crew, an experiential-like team that sets up to shoot the movie. These are the gaffers, grips, bad boys, technicians, cameramen, and directors. They shoot the film. Finally, there are the actors. The ones that play the roles and perform in front of the camera. Of course, it’s big business. Tens, sometimes hundreds of millions of dollars.
ICUs Are A Little Like Movie Sets
It might not seem like there’s anything magical about dying, but a terminal patient in an ICU, hospital or hospice is similar to a movie set. The hospital or hospice manages the day-to-day needs of the patient. The Palliative Care Doctor is the director. The specialists, nurses, and technicians are the film crew. The patient’s family and friends are like the actors, only real. Furthermore, we usually trade make-believe for faith. The dying person goes to a better place, where they’ll unite with other family and friends that have died. A place of no pain, no want, of everlasting peace, love, and tranquility. Of course, death and dying is also big business. The average cost of the last years of life is tens of thousands of dollars, often hundreds of thousands.
Deaths Have Tragic Arks
Most deaths involve a tragic ark and have scenes involving crying families, helpless doctors, hospitals, funerals, hearses, cemeteries, and burials. Sad scenes rekindle sad memories. Being Mortal is undoubtedly very serious. I haven’t read the screenplay. However, it’s likely a funny script. Especially with comedic actors Bill Murray and Seth Rogan; and a comic man director Aziz Ansari. An approach using humor to lighten the tragedy. Kind of like Awakenings, starring Robin Williams and Directed by comedian Penny Marshall.
However, good luck rewriting people’s memories of watching someone die. Good luck removing the sadness and despair from time spent in hospitals or hospices. In other words, these memories combined with Beng Mortal subject matter create a volatile environment and likely contributed to the reaction on the set. This isn’t an excuse. We don’t know what happened. I’m simply suggesting a flammable environment, one more likely to ignite for any reason.
Topics On Death Are Triggers
I don’t know what Bill Murray did. But I do know any age-related experience is likely to be volatile. Mortality reaks of death. It demands much from those remaining behind. We see ourselves in those dying. We see ghosts, monsters, and childhood fears. Love and understanding help us navigate. That’s what Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal is all about.
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