Personal Response: ‘My Sister’s Keeper’ directed by Nick Cassavetes and based on novel of the same name by Jodi Picoult
After watching the film ‘My Sister’s Keeper’, directed by Nick Cassavetes and based on the novel of the same name by Jodi Picoult, I feel compelled to reflect on the troubles in my life. Sure, I have a truckload of responsibilities as a student, athlete, leader, sister and daughter; there never seem to be enough minutes in a day to accomplish tasks; and my bank account is sitting pretty with a grand total of twenty dollars and seven cents. These problems feel so petty though, when compared with those faced by the Fitzgerald family in ‘My Sister’s Keeper’. Eldest daughter Kate suffers from leukaemia and it seems as if the purpose of the whole family is to keep Kate alive- younger sister Anna is the in vitro child who provides the body parts, mother Sarah takes on the role of a caretaker and father Brian brings in the money to pay for Kate’s frequent hospital trips. The film tugs on my heart strings as I watch the family’s relationships become strained and Kate’s condition worsen. Though I suspect few have experienced an identical set of circumstances, there are an abundance of life lessons which the viewer can take away from the family’s situation and the director does a commendable job of highlighting these important lessons through expert crafting of film techniques.
With today’s society so heavily promoting individualism and personal satisfaction, the magnitude of Sarah’s selfless devotion to her daughter leaves a lasting impression on me. Cameron Diaz plays the role of Sarah Fitzgerald, a lawyer-turned-permanent-caretaker, as she desperately does everything in her power to protect her daughter and keep her alive. A voice-over at the beginning of the text informs the viewer that she quit her high-paying job as a lawyer so she could attend to Kate’s frail condition. I feel that this was a shame as she is a lawyer of decent caliber, proven by her sound knowledge of the law during the first encounter with Campbell Alexander and through the confidence and authority she portrays during the court hearings. All those years of studying and law school, just to end up as a live-in caretaker- it seems a waste of her hard work and talent as a lawyer… This trade of a successful profession for a less desirable, low-class job reflects the sacrifice made by many parents to ensure brighter futures for their children. Being the daughter of Chinese immigrants, Sarah’s decision to give up her career hits particularly close to home as my own parents performed a similar exchange in profession; my brother and I are beneficiaries of this decision because we were consequently given the opportunity to grow up in clean, green New Zealand instead of the smog-covered and incredibly competitive Hong Kong environment. As year twelves, we have about one more year before we are legally deemed adults and somehow this knowledge seems to make us think that we have walked through life so far by our own efforts. However, we forget that our parents are always the ones behind us – the ones who gave up so much for us – the ones who poured their souls into our upbringing. I feel that we should remember this when we are proud of our achievements –we would not be where are if not for our parents’ sacrifices- and also strive to become selfless parents like Sarah when it is our turn to raise children.
The director uses a close-up of a male and a female silhouette to guide the audience into a memory of Kate’s first love, a beautiful example of unconditional love between herself and a fellow cancer patient. During a routine check-up at the hospital, Kate meets a boy named Taylor who is also receiving treatment for cancer and exchange cell phone numbers, soon after which the two begin dating. While the pair is unlike most other couples in that they are bald, frequently visit the hospital for treatment and are always aware of the fragility of their existence, they do not hold back their adoration. Much like other teenage couples today, they go out to eat together and ‘compare hand sizes’; they sneak out at night and share romantic moments in the darkness; they visually document their affections. By using Kate and Taylor’s very normal relationship, the director prompts the audience to reflect on their own romances and to draw parallels between the characters and their own life. Interspersed between these happy times are a few reminders of the couple’s vulnerability, such as the scene in which Kate still has her hair and is coughing up blood in the hospital. Taylor is there beside her gently holding her hair out of the way, tenderly rubbing her back and whispering words of reassurance in her ear. This scene demonstrates that love is a universal theme which extends to all, even those who are not viewed as being ‘normal’ by society. Kate apologizes for her sickness, to which Taylor replies “Don’t be. Tomorrow that could be me”. This unconditional love really touched me as the two set aside their problems, chose to be positive and focused on nurturing their relationship. The juxtaposition between the warm moments of their romance and the cold reality of their future encourages year twelve students to analyse their own relationships in a time where such relationships tend to be casual, petty and frivolous.
If there is one criticism I have to make about the film, it would be that the conclusion is completely unsatisfying and does not wrap up what is otherwise a great story. The film’s ending deviates greatly from that of the novel in that Anna does not get into a car accident and end up with severe brain damage, which is what transpires in Jodi PicouIt’s novel. The novel version sees that unresponsive Anna’s kidney is donated to Kate, effectively saving her life. However, Cassavetes’ version concludes with Kate’s death while Anna lives. I feel that if the ending of the film had stayed true to the one presented in the novel, the director would have created a more gripping conclusion through the irony of the situation: while trying to help her sister die as per her wishes, Anna dies instead and Kate is forced to shoulder the burden of this knowledge for the rest of her life. The movie depicts Kate consoling her crying mother in the hospital, using a bird’s eye view of Kate wrapping her arms protectively around Sarah as they sleep in the hospital bed. This reversal of roles is highlighted by the strange angle from which the viewer looks down at them. Anna’s voice-over then tells us that Kate died during that night, directly after all the problems surrounding medical emancipation, familial dispute and letting Kate die had been resolved. How is it just so convenient that she dies at this exact time? And how would Sarah feel waking up in the embrace of her now dead daughter? Despite feeling as if this was a very contrived ending, I am reminded of the important lesson that life is a precious gift and we never know when it will be taken from us. This idea is so relevant to year twelve students as the whole idea of YOLO (You Only Live Once) and carpe diem is becoming such a central message in society. Knowing this, we should be encouraged to make the most of the time we have here on earth and chase after the things we really want in life.
After viewing the film, I felt obligated to try and list at least fifty things I should be thankful for and my list exceeded the target amount by a great deal. ‘My Sister’s Keeper’ reminds me of how fragile humans are and how death waits in the wings to claim every single one of us. Nick Cassavetes’ interpretation of Jodi Picoult’s tragic novel put a new (but rather mediocre, in my opinion) spin on the ending of the tale and this further emphasises the idea of human mortality. The characters and their interactions also serve to demonstrate the importance of loving others. Also, just because a person has cancer or any other illness or looks different from the normal standard does not warrant the sometimes odd looks they receive from others; the blood in our veins runs the same red and thus we should love everyone regardless of their circumstances. ‘My Sister’s Keeper’ reminds us all of these values and if we were all to learn from and act on the lessons learnt from the film, our society would be transformed into something much better.