It is bizarre at the age of 81 to have a feeling of deja vu about the experience of seeing a film. And this is the only way I can explain my profound distaste of Chronic. I have tried to analyse the film in as objective way as I could and yet this did not explain my discomfort.
In my early teens I loved the cinema and used to go at least once a week to the popular screens or the ‘ French Art Cinema’. I loved the Westerns but ignoring the representation of women I identified strongly with the male hero. It is much later when reading Simone de Beauvoir I was introduced to feminism and became more aware of the – lack of and sexist – representation of women in films. This made me very critical.
It is with a lot of introspection that I realised that Chronic forced me, not to identify maybe, but at least try to understand the male way of looking at ‘care of terminal patients’. But this does not correspond in any way to my experience of loss, care, life and death.
I found in Chronic the same male/macho underlying ideology that so disturbed me in Hollywood films. David is no ‘hero’ of course but he is the protagonist compared to whom everybody else including the patient is insignificant. An end of life carer with a problem.
In the tragedy of a family losing a child Franco focused on the father. Why? To show how psychologically damaged he is? To explain how a man became a carer? To overload the emotional impact?
The loss of a child often breaks down a marriage. Was it necessary to gild the lily and add that David killed – or assisted his own son to die? This is a huge moral issue and the film just throws it away as secondary to the dedication of David as carer… Is the scene where he seeks absolution from his daughter credible? “He was always crying?” she says. How old was she? And what is the mother’s presence in this?
As an old woman I have had the experience of seeing deteriorating and dying bodies. Families dying at home, in hospital, in hospices. It is part of our lives nowadays and I think that Franco’s voyeuristic style lacks respect for these bodies.
The scenes of caring are designed to show how capable and sensitive a carer David is. Why then show and shock us with the ‘dirty’ concept over and over again? Why are there sexual ambiguities? The matey relationship between David and John over pornography, their collusion against his family and the rapprochement between David and Martha only after she vomited and soiled herself – to me indicate an overt sexism in the director. Of David’s three patients only the man has a past.
The film does show very well the physical side of caring. But the director does not seem to know that care requires more than one person sitting with a patient through night and day. We know that contact with relatives and friends however brief is more important than a perfectly executed bed bath.
Finally the issue of assisted suicide. This is an issue very much debated these days. Franco jumps on the bandwagon and includes child euthanasia in the picture. Why?
Now an aspect of the film I have not mentioned in my analysis is the gym and the jogging sequences. To me again – I may be sexist in this – it is a very male power image.
In short I think that Franco has a Young Man’s view of end of life. He relies on shocking and evoking strong emotions in the audience to present a superficial view of important problems of life and death. To feature Tim Roth as the carer is not incidental to the feel of the film. “Then I met Tim [Roth] and we got along and we started to research the movie together. Changing the gender was easy. It’s almost the same story, nothing changed.”
As an old woman, I am not convinced.