I think about a world to come where the books were found by the golden ones, written in pain, written in awe by a puzzled man who questioned, "What are we here for?" All the strangers came today and it looks as though they're here to stay.

-David Bowie "Oh! You Pretty Things"

Monday, October 3, 2011

50/50 (2011)

There are a million different ways to leave somebody. There's the usual. You find out that they have cancer and you just can't deal with it. So you pack your bags up and you get out of there as soon as possible. Of course, you can appear to be there for the person only to say something like, "I'm gonna miss you." By doing this, you've already written the person off as dead. You can make them deal with your emotional problems regarding the cancer rather than helping them deal with theirs. And then there's one of the more heinous ways: You can appear as if you're there for that person, only to begin a life anew behind their back with another lover. These are just the most easy to describe. When you're a cancer patient you get used to people leaving you. Maybe they're other cancer patients who couldn't survive - and don't pretend that this doesn't affect you as well - but maybe they're the people you thought would always be there for you.

Regarding 50/50, my strongest thought is that Seth Rogen was perfect. I have never watched a movie and thought, "Wow. Seth Rogen really nailed that one." He's been fun. He's been clever. He's been cute. He's done some good work and some bad work. But in 50/50, he was perfect. Seth Rogen's character Kyle is one of the few people in cancer patient Adam's (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) life who never left him throughout all of his trials. And I honestly think that he is one of the best examples of how someone ought to act when they find out someone they care about has cancer. His initial response reflects a kind of terror and disbelief. (This was the first time I cried during the movie, and certainly not the last.) But soon he works his way into normal mode. He spends time with Adam like always. They talk about the usual things. Kyle is concerned with going out and getting laid. He is goofy and selfish, but in the way that he was always goofy and selfish. He didn't make the cancer about him. He was simply there with his friend, helping when asked, discussing the cancer when it is brought up, but first and foremost, being honest, being a friend, and being ordinary. Adam may have acted like he wanted people to treat him like he was going to die, but in truth, what he wanted was Kyle. Before Adam discovered that Kyle had read and highlighted a book (books?) concerning dealing with a loved one with cancer, I knew he was the exemplary individual in Adam's life. Yeah, I figured it out before Adam did, but Adam caught on.

I think the reason this is important to me is because I don't know that I can be that person. I don't know that I could keep myself from spending either way more time or way less time with a friend who has cancer, denoting by both that I expected the worst. I don't know that I could let things be the way they used to be rather than making every conversation about cancer. I don't know that I could let the other person's needs come first. I don't know that I could keep myself from trying to make everything about how I am going to deal with this person's cancer. My mother had breast cancer and I lived across the nation. I know that people thought I should return to Michigan, regardless of what it would do to me financially. But I told my mom to tell me when I needed to come home. She was cancer free the next time I saw her in person. It was a hard time and I have always had regrets. I still wonder if I could be the Kyle to someone's Adam.

I think that my final verdict is that if a movie can penetrate so far past my comfort zone and get into the nitty gritty of emotions that I try to push down or make all right, then it's a good movie. My friend Tom, who had cancer, loved the movie, and agreed that everything short of Joseph Gordon-Levitt's eyebrows felt real, felt close. 50/50 is a great movie, and I think it raises awareness regarding a problem that we will all have to deal with: how to deal with people in your life who are sick, dying or dead.

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