The Phoenix Zine

Top Five Worst Movies About Organ Donation: Number Four, Part Two


It has taken me over a month to get my hands on the next movie in my list. Not available at the video store I go to, I finally had to borrow the video cassette tape from my local library. I took the situation as a sign that others felt it was as bad a movie as I did, but feel free to rent it and judge for yourself.

Number Four, Part Two: John Q

Meet the Archibalds: John Q (Denzel Washington), a hard working husband and father trying to make ends meet with his factory job; Denise (Kimberly Elise), an equally hard working wife and mother with a fierce love for her family and Michael (Daniel E. Smith), their 9 year-old son who dreams of being a body-builder. The Archibalds aren’t rich, but they manage. And as is typically the case in movies, what they lack in money they make up for in love because they are a very close, happy family.

Things change one day when Mike suddenly clutches his chest in pain while stealing second base during a little league baseball game, has a seizure and stops breathing. His parents rush him to the Emergency Room where he is resuscitated and admitted into the hospital. During a meeting with Mike’s doctor (James Woods) and Rebecca Payne (Anne Heche), the hospital administrator, John and Denise learn their son Michael will die unless he receives a heart transplant. Scared, but willing to try anything to save their son, they agree Mike should have the transplant.

Except John Q takes place in the United States of America, the land of HMOs, not universal health care. So when John says yes, they want Mike to have the transplant, Ms. Payne tells him his insurance will not cover it and the hospital will require a down payment of $75 000 before they will even consider putting Mike on the transplant list.

John and Denise sell their appliances, get money from their church and apply for every social assistance program they can think of in an effort to raise the money, but they just don’t have enough. Mike’s condition continues to deteriorate, and one day Denise calls John from the hospital to tell him Mike is being released because they don’t have the money to cover his stay. She yells at John, telling him he MUST do something.

Except John is at the end of his rope. He is out of options. So in a last ditch effort to get his son on the transplant list, he pulls a gun on Mike’s doctor and takes the Emergency Room of the hospital hostage.

What follows is practically a public service announcement for Americans about the evils of HMOs and the uninsured status of millions in the United States. The public somehow finds out about John’s situation and rallies behind him. Outside the Emergency Room the public gathers with the police; cheering when he releases some of the hostages as a gesture of goodwill.

Rebecca Payne finally concedes to putting Mike on the transplant list, but being on the list isn’t enough. If no donor is found in time, John knows Mike will die anyway, despite his best efforts. John decides to do what he can and requests that Mike be moved to the Emergency Room with him. Since no donor can be found, John decides he will be the donor.

Apparently John believes organ donation misconception number three: doctors give sub-standard medical care to people who have signed their donor cards.

Although I’ve heard bloodwork technicians referred to as ‘vampires,’ the title of doctor is not synonomous with ‘assassin’ or ‘murderer’. I don’t care if you live in Canada or the United States, a patient is a patient. Doctors do not kill patients to harvest their organs, and several tests are done to ensure a patient is dead before they become organ donors.

While for the movie Blood Work I complained the killer did not take into account the complexities of finding a suitable organ donor, John deals with these issues in one quick conversation with Mike’s doctor. John was tested to be a blood donor for his son so he knows they have the same blood type. For some inexplicable reason the hospital checked out John’s tissue which also turned out to be a match with Mike. And because Mike’s heart is three times the normal size for a 9 year-old, John’s heart will fit his chest. Even though I dislike this movie a great deal, I have to admit I was impressed with John’s knowledgeable explanation of why the transplant would work.

Except for one ‘minor’ problem. There is no such thing as a living heart donor. John not only has to die in order to give Mike his heart, he has to die in a way that will leave him brain dead so his heart is not damaged in the process. And because Mike’s doctor isn’t going to kill him to get his heart, John decides he will shoot himself in the head.

Miraculously, a donor is found right before John pulls the trigger. John watches with Denise as the doctors put the new heart in Mike’s chest, which starts beating right away. Sadly, this leads to organ donation misconception number four: a donor is always found in time.

In the movies it may be the case that at the eleventh hour, in the nick of time donors are found and people who would have died due to organ failure get a second chance at life. But real life doesn’t always turn out that way. Wait times for an organ transplant can last from mere days to years. And, sometimes, the organ doesn’t come in time. Not everyone has a happy ending.

In John Q, this is not the case. After John is arrested, the movie cuts to another public service announcement about the United States’ lack of a viable health care plan. Suddenly, it’s three months later and John at his court case. He is found guilty of kidnapping and false imprisonment, his sentence being estimated at two years. But the point is that Mike is there, looking vibrant and healthy. Denise tells John she is proud of him, and I am left with the feeling that although John did break the law, the director wants me to believe he was in the right, because he saved his son.

John Q rates fourth on my list of shame for several reasons. First of all, I have tremendous respect for Denzel Washington as an actor, and I’ve seen him in movies that handle the topic of illness much more realistically and sensitively than John Q does (ie Philadelphia). It saddens me that he would agree to be in a movie with such a poorly written plot line and the power to give a lot of people the wrong impression of transplantation.

Secondly, I hate movies with sick children because I’ve never seen a movie that accurately portrays them. Sick children are human too. They are not angels. They get scared, and angry, and they misbehave – just like regular children do. There is no flaw in Mike, however. In the beginning of the movie he’s a perfect kid who does his best to cheer up his stressed out parents, and after he gets sick, he is an object of pity. Thus, he deserves the transplant.

The quickest way to evoke a person’s sympathy is to mention a dying child. In our age of technological advancement, it is widely acknowledged that a dying child is against nature. Any respect I might have had for the movie because of its portrayal of the inadequacies of health care in the U.S. is lost because the story of the previously healthy, now dying, child feels like a manipulation to me, designed specifically to get an emotional reaction.

Then there’s the matter of the eventual donor. A reckless driver, she speeds up to pass a truck before a truck in the other lane reaches them. Not quite fast enough, the passing truck clips the side of her car, sending her into a spin and putting her directly in the path of the truck she just passed.

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I see a Mack truck speeding towards someone in car, I don’t think, “Oh look! There’s a potential organ donor!” I was extremely surprised that she was even eligible for organ donation after such an accident, and absolutely stupefied to see her body didn’t have a mark on it from the crash. I can suspend my disbelief for several things in this movie, but even I have my limits here.

To end on a positive note, the only aspects of John Q I like are that it was filmed almost entirely in Canada, and every time I watch it I feel incredibly grateful for Tommy Douglas and universal health care. Although without them, I probably wouldn’t have survived long enough to see this terrible movie, so maybe it is a mixed blessing after all…

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