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The Physician Movie Break Down

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ARAB 270

Midterm Paper (The Physician)


While calling Der Medicus, translated from German to English as The Physician, a hidden gem may be an exaggeration, the film definitely has its merits. It was released in German theatres on 25 December 2013, then in many foreign countries throughout Europe, before finally becoming available on Netflix sometime in 2015. The film was directed by Philipp Stolzl and stars actors Tom Payne, Stellan Skarsgard, Emma Rigby, Olivier Martinez, Michael Marcus, Elyas M’Barek, and Ben Kingsley. The film is set in the Dark Ages, where the art of healing has been largely lost throughout Europe. There are no doctors or hospitals, only traveling Barbers with meager knowledge. During this same time, medical knowledge is flourishing on the other side of the world. With such a premise, the film ambitiously attempts to cover lots of ground and themes within its lengthy two-and-a-half-hour runtime, and mostly succeeds. If not for the hasty ending, the film may have seen greater appraisal. Regardless, the film addresses the scientific and religious tolerances and inequalities of the presented cultures in a way that felt both genuine and sanguine.

The film begins in 1021 England, with a young Robert Cole (Tom Payne) discovering that his mother has ‘side sickness’, i.e. appendicitis. The only hope for the family rests in the visiting Barber (Stellan Skarsgard), who had been portrayed as more of a showman and magician than a doctor. Ultimately, he is unable to save Rob’s mother. Orphaned, Rob chases after the Barber’s wagon and persists his way into an apprenticeship. Years pass and Rob eventually takes over as the Barber starts to lose his eyesight. Eventually, the two learn of a Jew who can supposedly repair eyesight, and proceed to seek him out. The Jewish Hakim is able to repair the Barbers eyesight, and informs Rob that he was trained in Isfahan by Ibn Sina (Ben Kingsley), the greatest physician alive. Rob parts ways with the Barber, who was by then like a father to him, and heads to Persia. After his voyage across the Mediterranean, Rob takes on a Jewish identity of Jesse ben Benjamin, heeding the warning that Christians were killed by Muslims. Rob joins a caravan to pass through the desert, where he meets Rebecca (Emma Rigby), a woman being transported to Isfahan, and quickly falls in love with her. Before reaching the city, the caravan gets separated by a sandstorm. Through sheer determination and luck, Rob manages to reach Isfahan, and quickly makes his way to the university, i.e. the madrasa. There, after a series of fortuitous circumstances, he is made a student by Ibn Sina. Rob begins to study the many sciences directly under Ibn Sina, including philosophy, both Greek and Islamic.

The story could end there, and it would have been a decent story. However, the film is not even halfway over. At the madrasa, Rob befriends Karim (Elyas M’Barek), a wealthy Muslim, and Mirdin (Michael Marcus), a Jew who is sponsored by the fiancé of Rebecca, who herself survived the sandstorm. Mirdin invites Rob, presumably a fellow Jew, to stay with him and his family. Meanwhile the ruler of the city, Shah Ala ad-Daula (Olivier Martinez), murders the son of the Seljuk Turks leader, who was sent to negotiate peace. This, unsurprisingly, results in war. The Seljuks send a man infected with the Black Death into Isfahan, inciting an epidemic. Ibn Sina, Rob, Karim, Mirdin, and seemingly all the Hakims remain and begin to battle the plague. Rebecca’s husband saves himself and bribes his way out of the quarantine, abandoning her. Once Rob is informed of this, he rushes to her home to find her infected. He takes her to the hospital and cares for her night and day; both of them come closer as a result. Rob discovers that the dead bodies were infested with fleas, which he and Ibn Sina trace to rats. The Hakims brew a deadly poison and spread it throughout the streets, reducing the rat population. Soon after, the epidemic reaches its peak, and begins to decline. In the aftermath, Rob and Mirdin find Karim laying in his home, infected and terminal. Before Rebecca must leave the hospital and return home to her husband, she and Rob copulate in the nearly abandoned building.

With many lives lost to the plague, including that of his close friend, and the loss of his love yet again, Rob falls into a depression It is only when Ibn Sina tells Rob that the hospital has a case of side sickness, that Rob springs back into action. Furthermore, the patient is a Zoroastrian, and does not care what happens to his body after death. Rob takes this unique, and extremely dangerous, opportunity to examine the inside of a human body, a taboo which he was strictly told never to do, both by the Barber and by Ibn Sina. He records his finding and succeeds in discovers the cause of side sickness, but is soon exposed and detained. Both he and Ibn Sina are brought to trial before the mullahs, who, throughout the movie, have been conspiring with the Seljuks to remove the Shah, Jews, and madrasa, from Isfahan. Meanwhile, Rebecca, who avoids sleeping with her husband, is examined by Mirdin, who discovers that she has become pregnant. Her husband soon discovers her adultery, and condemns her to death by stoning. Right before the execution of Rob and Ibn Sina is carried out, the Shahs soldiers attack the mullahs and retrieve them. They are brought to the Shah, who is, surprise surprise, suffering from side sickness. He demands that Rob and Ibn Sina, with their newfound knowledge, attempt to save his life so that he can command the defense of the city against the encircling Seljuks. Rob makes the stipulation that the Shah send men to save Rebecca from her own execution. With the help of Mirdin, the three successfully perform the procedure and are rewarded by the Shah with an escort to reach the Jewish district and escape the city. Before escaping, Rob returns to the madrasa in search for Ibn Sina, only to discover that he has poisoned himself… for some reason. The Shah leads his glorious attack against the Seljuks, and is defeated, resulting in the fall of the city to the Seljuks. Rob and Rebecca, along with the Jewish Hakims, return to England, where they open a hospital. The film ends with the Barber performing to an empty crowd, only to discover that no one needs him because some physician from the orient by the name of Cole had opened a hospital in the city; he rushes to reunite with his one-time pupil.



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