Year: 1981

Production: Paragon

Director: Richard Pearce

Starring: Donald Sutherland, Mare Winningham, Jeff Goldblum, John Marley, Sharon Ackerman, Michael Lerner

Screenwriter: James Salter

97 minutes; Color

A serious, mutedly dramatic problem picture about the dilemmas surrounding experimentation on the boundaries of new medical technology, this classy Canadian production refuses to tread into the horror-hospital territory of Coma (1978) or mere medical melodrama, and, perhaps accordingly, found that its solid focus on character studies failed to connect commercially. Sutherland is the heart surgeon defying his hospital board to give patient Winningham one last shot at life with a transplanted mechanical heart invented by Goldblum, and it is these three who become the objects of the film's scrutiny as they each face the implications of the operation and its success. Sutherland is a rock of heel-digging dedication under fire for his disobedience, Willingham tortuously comes to terms with her feelings of not being completely human, and Goldblum welcomes his sudden celebrity status with open arms, providing some much-needed light relief for the film. Director Pearce and wrier Salter both bring impressive documentary-drama backgrounds to bear on the film's conception and execution - the former made the pioneer western Heartland (1979), and the latter includes among his many credits the script for Michael Ritchie's Downhill Racer (1969) - while cameraman Brault is also better known as a director of both fact-based dramas and straight documentaries. So appropriately enough, this film proved prescient in the short term rather than embodying a long-range speculation - Dr Robert Jarvis, who designed the heart used in the film, was also responsible for the first artificial transplant ever performed on a human.

The Overlook Film Encyclopedia - Science Fiction

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