The Physician (2013)
Directed by: Philipp Stölzl | 155 minutes | adventure, drama | Actors: Tom Payne, Stellan Skarsgård, Olivier Martinez, Emma Catherine Rigby, Elyas M’Barek, Fahri Yardim, Makram Khoury, Michael Marcus, Ben Kingsley, Stanley Townsend, Emil Marwa, Martin Hancock
In 1986, the American author Noah Gordon wrote the first book in a trilogy that did not receive much attention in his country, but proved very popular in Europe and especially in Germany and Spain. It is therefore in Germany that this book was made into a film in 2013 with the eponymous title ‘The Physician’. This English language film has an impressive cast including Stellan Skarsgård and Ben Kingsley who take the film to the next level.
The film begins in Medieval England, 1021 AD, where it soon becomes clear that medicine is far from developed. After the death of his mother, Rob Cole joins a barber surgeon and together they travel across England to help people with their ailments. Meanwhile, Rob feels guilt for not being able to save his mother. When he encounters someone who points him to a healing school in Iran, he is determined to make the journey there. But the only way to be admitted is to renounce his Christian faith and pose as a Jew.
What director Philipp Stölzl mainly shows in this film is that the life of a traveler is accompanied by a view of beautiful natural landscapes to envy – from camping in a snowy forest and driving a wooden cart over flowered lawns to a journey through the desert reminiscent of scenes from ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ (David Lean, 1962). These images almost seem to be a compensation for showing nasty medical treatments in detail.
Despite the pleasant aesthetics of the film and the good relationship between Rob and the barber, the film slowly falls into a void of exoticism and white saviorism. As soon as Rob arrives in Iran, it is inevitable that he stands out as a white Englishman. A foreign culture from his perspective then comes across as voyeurism. Moreover, it is then Rob who, as a newbie, just happens to find the solution to every problem.
In this book adaptation by Noah Gordon, some scenes resemble references to World War II, for which he enlisted in the United States Army. This reference mainly lies in the conflict between the religions of Islam and Judaism, in which Islam wants to get rid of the Jews. Even more so in images of a chaotic nursing home desperately trying to protect the sick from apparent death. These are well-known images for many who regularly commemorate the terrible time. But the conflict in the film also makes us realize that there has been a conflict in the Middle East for much longer, which is far from being resolved.
With beautiful images in the first half, the viewer loses a bit of attention in the second half. But from the beginning to the end, the film shows a very impressive history, the history of medicine. It is interesting to see which resources are still being used after a millennium, but it is also clear that knowledge was scarce and many resources are now complete nonsense. The film therefore mainly gives an awareness of the extent to which science has come since then and leaves the viewer in gratitude.