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Lion in the House, A
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by Doug Bentin

"A situation that defies dispassionate contemplation."
4 stars

“A Lion in the House” is not an entertainment. It is fascinating in the way of reality television, sucking you in in spite of a probable initial resistance, and it reminds you that courage is all around you every day. But it isn’t a mindless entertainment in the manner of summer movies.

The film follows the lives of five families containing children with cancer over the six years of their treatment. Also like reality TV, as you watch these kids and their families you come to know them, to like most of them and dislike a few. That’s what real life is like. Not everyone, even as they suffer uselessly, is a champ.

But I mentioned courage and here’s the most remarkable thing about the courage in this film—it doesn’t look like courage. It looks like the way we live everyday. It’s disguised as jokes, as when someone asks a 15-year old if he knows what a living will is and he says yeah, it means that if you have no brain activity they can put you on a machine. And he dad pops off “Then he should be on a machine right now.”

And it’s when a sister admits that “It’s difficlut having a brothewr with cancer, but it most ways it’s like he’s normal,” and she doesn’t realize that she’s just confessed how un-normal this all is.

A lot of the film recognizes the dreariness of this decline in living. Some of the kids are being treated at a children’s hospital that doubles as a teaching facility. Shots of the waiting room, and a waiting room in a children’s hospital must be the most torturous place this side of a North Korean prison, are intercut with scenes in which whole families move into sick rooms to be with their loved one.

Then doctors and their students discuss theories and suggest potential treatments. These sessions are necessary, but they come across as cold. Then we see the warmth with which most of these professionals deal with their patients. One of the oncologists says that she feels like one of the family, but she’s the cousin you have to put up with in hopes that something good will come of it.

But not all the doctors are beloved figures. Parents disagree with prescribed medications and treatments. They don’t like the way some of the docs speak so bluntly to their kids. “You have nine lives,” one of them says, “and I think you’re on number six or seven.”

We make such a big deal out of protecting the kids from unpleasant realities when so many of them are tougher and better able to cope with them than we are. There is something inspiring in seeing these kids going along as if there lives were normal, but the film also emphasizes the existentialist notion that life is constructed of pieces that don’t make any sense unless we create some meaning.

I think the bottom line is that you have to continue with life as well as you can because you never know what is going to happen tomorrow. Or even if there is going to be a tomorrow. You just go on as if.

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originally posted: 08/12/06 01:00:55
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2006 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2006 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2006 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

4/29/07 Mark A great documentary 5 stars
1/26/06 max Demianovich This documentary is incredible in its realism 5 stars
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  N/A (NR)
  DVD: 23-Sep-2008



Directed by
  Steven Bogner
  Julia Reichert

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