Film/Video/TV Annotations


The House of God


MediumFilm
KeywordsAcculturation, Caregivers, Death and Dying, Depression, Doctor-Patient Relationship, Empathy, Grief, Hospitalization, Human Worth, Humor and Illness/Disability, Impaired Physician, Individuality, Loneliness, Love, Medical Education, Mourning, Nursing, Obsession, Physician Experience, Professionalism, Scapegoating, Suicide, Survival, Trauma, Urban Violence, Women in Medicine
Summary

The new interns, Roy Basch (Tim Matheson), Chuck (Howard Rollins, Jr.) and Wayne Potts (Michael Sacks), begin their year of internal medicine training in a busy city hospital under construction. After initial introductions led by the vague staff man and vapid chief resident, they become the specific charges of the cynical resident doctor "Fats" (Charles Haid). Fats teaches them attitude and language: how to "buff" (improve) and "turf" (transfer) "gomers" (Get Out of My Emergency Room)--the words used to describe management of incurable, hateful patients who "never die," regardless of the abuse the clumsy housestaff might inflict. But Fats has heart.

Soon, they fall under the command of the militaristic and lonely woman resident, Jo Miller (Lisa Pelikan), who cannot bring herself to withhold treatment, even at a patient's request. She blames underlings for the failings of medicine and nature, as well as herself.

Wayne throws himself from the hospital roof because of a misplaced sense of guilt over a patient's demise. Roy falls in love with the nurse, Molly (Kathryn Dowling), but nearly loses her as he begins to emulate Jo's cold, calculating style. He is "rescued" in the nick of time by his friends, Fats, and the death of a physician patient (Ossie Davis) whom he admires. With recovered equanimity and renewed anger over the suicide of his fellow intern, Roy refuses to go on with his residency.

CommentaryThis film was never released commercially. The characters are caricatures, some (but not all) of the jokes flop badly, while the faintly sexist, ageist, and ghoulish overtones might have offended a general audience. But its black humor (and that of the novel) have been appreciated by two decades of interns and senior medical students, many of whom claim that it kept them sane during the most difficult time in their careers. Behind the cardboard exaggerations, lie insightful vignettes, hauntingly familiar to anyone who has observed the personal coping strategies used by hospital staff to deal with the stress of their work. The suicide is silent, sudden, and starkly real.
DirectorDonald Wrye
Leading ActorsOssie Davis, Kathryn Dowling, Charles Haid, Tim Matheson, Lisa Pelikan
StudioUnited Artists
Year1979
Color/BWColor
Running Time108 minutes
Based OnThe House of God
Video SourceA rare collector's item; available through specialty sources, e.g., A Million and One World-Wide Videos, Orchard Hill, GA 30266-0349; FAX 1-800 849-0873; tel. 1-800-849-7309.
MiscellaneousBased on the autobiographical novel of the same title by Samuel Shem.
Annotated by Duffin, Jacalyn
Date of Entry 09/11/97
Last Revised 02/19/04