Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Burden of Proof

I was entertained this past weekend and now I feel guilty. It took a couple days for this to hit me, probably because most movies I rent end up being so bad I live to regret them even at Blockbuster prices. The movie I saw this past weekend, Proof, was not one of these movies.

For those of you who haven't seen it, Proof is the story of a promising young mathematics graduate student named Catherine (Gwyneth Paltrow) who drops out of college to care for her equally brilliant but mentally ill father, a mathematics professor named Robert played by Anthony Hopkins. Following his death Catherine's older sister arrives from New York to help wrap up family affairs. Older sister is well-meaning but domineering, and her persistent doubts about Catherine's mathematical abilities leads Catherine to question her own sanity.

That's the basic plotline. Trust me, it's better than I describe it.

I have trouble watching medical or forensic movies. I usually don't gravitate toward movies about serial rapists, homicide detectives or other psychotic killer types. Even watching this movie I couldn't help thinking that perhaps Catherine had done her father an injustice by keeping him at home, out of the hospital. According to the storyline, Robert developed mental illness near the end of his life after a long and successful career. I couldn't help wondering if Robert really did belong in a hospital initially, at least for a good diagnostic workup. I had to remind myself that this was fiction, and fiction with a lot of precedent: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Fisher King, Prince of Tides, All About Eve. Movies about mental illness are no different than dramas based on physical diseases. Where would Love Story be without cancer?

So why the guilt?

I've been having flashbacks to Dinah's post That's Entertainment. In that post Dinah talked about a reality show that featured people with real psychological problems being placed in a house together. I realize that reality shows are different from fictional movies, but I couldn't help thinking that crippling brain diseases should not be entertaining. But Proof was. It made me think about the sacrifices that have to be made to care for elderly or disabled relatives, and the compromises that siblings make to maintain their own relationships in these situations. It was about love and devotion, and more than a little guilt.

I guess that's the burden of Proof.