What an unusual stricture on this week’s 3x3! Movies about cancer but are not about cancer? I feel like if it wasn’t for that limitation, I would be sure to mention how I haven’t seen Synecdoche, NY yet but how I gather that would probably be a wonderful choice. Or I’d choose Magnolia (yet again) and how the sins-of-the-father-visited-on-the-kids plot ties in to a guy just diagnosed with the big C to another guy who is on his deathbed of the same disease, and how it affects those people and their loved ones and caretakers, plus frogs for some reason. Or maybe I’d mention Louis CK’s sidekick character in Trumbo, where Louis CK was tossed in a time machine back to the blacklist era, but he’s down a cancerous lung; every day he has to struggle against the government trying to stomp on him even while his body is trying to kill him (though he still appears to have a pack-a-day habit). Or maybe I’d mention 50/50, where Joseph Gordon-Levitt learns not to be such a jerk to his mom, Angelica Huston. But those, to me, are about cancer. I don’t want to get pulled over by the cancer cops. So I’m getting more abstract.
These are movies where I don’t think cancer isn’t even mentioned, but I think there are about important plot points or sociological movements that resemble the spread of cancerous cells throughout a relatively healthy body. For what is cancer but the manifestation of the Declaration of Independence, where cells belonging to one collective group subscribe to life (we’re living cells!), liberty (screw what the walking, thinking, rest of the body wants!) and pursuit of happiness (we should convince the other cells of the body to go our way, that would be awesome!). Let’s talk about cancer of the body politic. In movies.
- City Of God
The patient: The City of God, the heavily ironic name for a slum outside Rio de Janeiro.
Causes and risk factors: Poverty, institutional corruption, desperation, envy. And of course, increasing levels of background radiation of crime.
Symptoms and diagnosis: After suffering from decades of relatively benign tumors of crime, the city shudders when a street kid violently ups the drugs-guns’n-money organized crime game. Robberies, burglaries, rapes, and murders skyrocket, violence begets violence, and even regular folks living in the City are helpless but to be drawn into the metastasizing conflict.
At one point, the narrator puts some aerial shots of the city up for us. To me, peering at the B&W photo slides showing what wards are held by which gangster, I’m reminded of a doctor putting an chest x-ray up for the patient to see. See that mass there, in the tangle of capillaries and bronchioli? That will kill you.
Treatments: The City of God reacts, and a rival gang steps up, and the two break into open warfare. The treatment is almost worse than the disease.
Prognosis: The malignancy is removed, leaving plenty of benign crap that can be tolerated. Things settle down at the end. The City still stands today and is about to host the Summer Olympics! Live strong!
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (the 1978 one, not the 1956 one which is all about communism.)
The patient: the good people of San Francisco, California.
Causes and risk factors: If you occupy space in the universe, you can’t help but be subjected to random cosmic rays just passing through. I’m no oncologist, but it’s my understanding that sometimes a particle (or is it a wave?) will nudge its way past a chromosome or two. The cells containing these chromosomes are impressed by this random visitor, and start to work in their own interests. In this movie, weird matter falls from space, and lands on San Francisco.
Symptoms and diagnosis: People are replaced with polyp people. It happens fast. You’re fine one day, you go to sleep, you never wake up. The polyp people are quick to spread to important government and police forces, shutting down important immune systems. Even health inspectors have no immunity to this invasion.
(check for odd growths regularly)
Treatments: Oh, palliative care only. You might briefly be entertained by Brooke Adams cavorting around nude, as new polyp people somehow have to retrieve their clothes from the original host body. But Donald Sutherland’s struggles to stop the global takeover are futile and the movie goes on so long and wouldn’t it just be better to close your eyelids for a second?
Prognosis: Fatal to the human host (hopefully they got the Zodiac killer, anyway). But memes of men pointing and screaming will live on forever.
The Matrix movies
The patient: The machines and artificial agents that serve as jailers to their captives, or, as I prefer, orderlies trying to keep the lunatics in the asylum from harming themselves and their neighbors. But as there’s no justice in a cruel world, even the robots can contract a terminal disease.
Causes and risk factors: The longer you last, the more likely you are to pick up something. The humans don’t know it, but they’ve been captive for a long time, either stuck inside Plato’s Allegory of the Cave that looks like the late 1990s tech industry and rave scene or stuck inside a slightly more literal cave. Either way, they only know the lies that the AIs lie to them, and they’re occasionally rebooted. The system is generally orderly. The problem from comes from humans being carcinogenic to artificial intelligence, and AI are around humans all the damn time.
Symptoms and diagnosis: A subroutine of a subroutine is infected and is able to self-replicate. The software agent no longer follows the commands of the host. It spreads to different systems. It’s almost ironic, since in the first movie it was bitching to a human consciousness that it was humans that were the cancer. But this Smith tumor not only expands to consume pretty much everyone in the Allegory of the Cave, it is somehow incredibly able to transmit outside its usual environment to the quote-unquote real world. Now who is the cancer metaphor, Agent Smith?
Treatments: Extremely experimental, extremely alternative medicine. Forget radiation, chemicals, or biologics. The machines swallow one of their little tools to poison the cancer with allegorical, informational damage, and it seems to do the trick. Code is rewritten and neutralized.
pictured: cancer treatment
Prognosis: The outlook is surprisingly cheery, despite a 36% Rotten Tomatoes rating. And I liked Cloud Atlas, anyway.
Runners Up: The Room. “I have breast cancer.” Then it is never mentioned again.
Akira: Neoplasm is about to E.X.P.L.O.D.E.
Fight Club: the Project Mayhem and Fight Club cells spread from city to city like lymph drifting between nodes.
Keep up the good fight, Tom, and congratulations on the one-year!