Undefended: Best Hospital/Surgery Scenes

This week, the greatest hospital/surgery scenes in motion picture history.

Thomas Banks:

  1. Gene Wilder’s “Life! Give my creation life!” scene in “Young Frankenstein.” Because really, how often is the parody more memorable than the work parodied?
  2. Jack Nicholson/Louise Fletcher in the “Nurse Ratchet, you turn that television on scene” in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Every one of either character’s less pleasant qualities are perfectly played up to aggravate the other. One of the best of protagonist/antagonist pairings.
  3. Alec Baldwin’s “Disagree with me in front of the others, and I’ll tear your liver out with a grapefruit spoon” monologue in “Malice.” People have cited the Hepburn/Grant vehicle “Charade” as the best non-Hitchcock Hitchcockian thriller to the point of cliche, but this largely forgotten 1992 number is a much stronger imitation of the Master.
  4. The Alien tears its way out of John Hurt’s chest in “Alien.” Apologies to the six other guys who were planning on using this one.
  5. Joseph Merrick recites the Lord’s Prayer in “The Elephant Man.” I haven’t cried at a movie since I was five, but this scene brings me close every time I watch it.

Fraser Martens:

  1. History’s worst C-section, Prometheus: I remember very little about Prometheus because there was so little there to remember, but I doubt I’ll ever forget the inspired sequence when Noomi Rapace realizes how badly she needs to get the alien out of her womb.
  2. Clamping the artery, Black Hawk Down.: I’m also unlikely to forget watching the medic attempt to retrieve a severed femoral artery that’s retracted into a fellow soldier’s thigh. Doctors have gross jobs.
  3. Raleigh St. Clair evaluates his prize patient, The Royal Tenenbaums: Bill Murray’s attempts to make heads or tails of the unique case of Dudley Heinsbergen are a perfect example of a very different branch of medicine. “Dudley suffers from a rare disorder combining symptoms of amnesia, dyslexia, and color-blindness, with a highly acute sense of hearing.”
  4. Star Lord loses his mother, Guardians of the Galaxy: How many space operas start with something as grounded as a young boy listening to music in a hospital, trying to process his mother’s death?
  5. The Joker visits Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight: The Joker in his nurse’s outfit is a disturbingly memorable image. Plus, Heath Ledger delivers a heck of a monologue, Two-Face’s face falls off, and a hospital blows up.

Timothy Lawrence:

  1. Harvey Dent wakes up in the hospital in “The Dark Knight” – the way Nolan cuts out the sound here makes this small moment one of the most inspired in his best film.
  2. The examination that opens “A Serious Man” – as Gibbs points out in his review (read it, folks!), the Coens intercut medical examination with education to suggest the beginning of Larry’s divinely ordained trial.
  3. Early scenes at the military hospital in “The Master” – “Upon your shoulders rests the responsibility of a postwar world.”
  4. Watanabe receives his diagnosis in “Ikiru” – the look on Takashi Shimura’s face here is utterly heartbreaking.
  5. Guy Pearce finds a room full of caged dogs in “The Rover” – boy, does Pearce act with his eyes in this film.

Remy Wilkins:

Tom hasn’t cried at a movie since he was five. I haven’t cried since the last time I watched one of these five movies. Also [SPOILER ALERTS]:

  1. The Death of Earl Partridge, Magnolia : The crushing loss and fury of Frank Mackey losing a father he loathes and so badly needs gives a potency and a focus to one of the best films of the 90s.
  2. I Ask Only For My Son, House of Sand and Fog : One of our greatest actors gives his best performance in a movie somewhat unworthy of his skills; Sir Ben Kingsley tears me to pieces with his mad petitioning for the life of his son as he runs to the hospital.
  3. Ashley After Her Miscarriage, Junebug : Lord have mercy.
  4. The Medical Check-up, To the Wonder : Marina is relieved to find out that she will not need a hysterectomy though the tension in her marriage over offspring comes to a boil. If you look closely, you’ll see an x-ray of an IUD forming a crucifix in her womb.
  5. The Death of Ed Bloom Sr, Big Fish : The horror at having to die in a hospital for a man bigger than his own story is curbed by a breakout and rush to the riverside where he is transformed and immortalized all narrated by his formerly estranged son who has been converted to his father’s grand vision of the world.

Justin Spencer:

  1. “The Constant Gardener”: Tessa, in a truly selfless act that reveals her true character to both Justin and the audience, breastfeeds a baby just orphaned in the baby’s own birth. The act is made all the more remarkable in that her own baby had just died in its delivery. Mother Tessa (Teresa), indeed.
  2. “The Godfather”: Michael visits his Don Corleone in the hospital. Finding the hospital deserted and his father unprotected, Michael calmly address the situation and saves his father’s life. It’s the first moment, however innocent his initial intentions, that Michael is shown to be the coldly calculating crime boss that he so badly didn’t want to become.
  3. “Forrest Gump” : Forrest is laid up in a hospital be right next to Lt. Dan. one of the poignant scenes in the film that shows Forrest’s severely limited ability to have empathy. “The only good thing about being wounded in the buttocks is the ice cream.”

Joshua Gibbs:

We’re talking “best,” but if we were talking “saddest hospital scenes,” the correct answered would be that whole spate of 4 minute long Thai life insure commercials from five years ago with Youtube titles like “YOU WILL CRY If YOU WATCH THIS I SWEAR.” Them titles, they weren’t fooling around.

  1. The end of A Farewell To Arms (1957): In real life, there are only two kinds of hospital scenes. The first involves the question, “Am I going to die?” and the second involves the question, “Is she going to die?” And despite the fact that neither Rock Hudson nor Jennifer Jones have enough acting talent to sweeten a cup of coffee, the incessant “But what if she should die?” voice over is what every hospital scene is really about.
  2. Falling in love over a hot battlefield tracheotomy in The Princess and the Warrior (2000): Can surgery be romantic? People… people… please, the director was German, so obviously it can.
  3. Joe Banks is diagnosed with a brain cloud in Joe Vs The Volcano: This whole scene is balanced as delicately as an Eric Calder mobile. The host of “Unsolved Mysteries” tells Joe he has a “brain cloud,” and the audience becomes so disoriented, but then Ray Charles’ cover of “Old Man River” attaches acme safes to the moment and brings it thudding back to earth, but then Joe hugs a stranger’s dog and then a stranger. How to feel ten things at once?
  4. Kathy H does her rounds at the end of Never Let Me Go: The hospital as the inevitable end-up, the pre-morgue.
  5. 5. Charlotte and Bob get Charlotte’s foot looked at in Lost In Translation: The hospital as a strange, disorienting place. I’ve never had a doctor who spoke Japanese, but I’ve often left hospitals feeling as though no one has understood a word I’ve said.
Joshua Gibbs

Joshua Gibbs teaches great books, collects records and jogs to work. He and his wife have two children, both of whom have seven names. He tweets at @joshgibbs and blogs for the CiRCE Institute.

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