Faith Review – Patch Adams
Film Title: Patch Adams
Year: December 25, 1998 (Christmas Day)
Director(s): Directed by Tom Shadyac. He has also directed Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994), The Nutty Professor (1996), Liar Liar (1997), and Evan Almighty (2007). Several of his films deal with morality issues, but particularly with a lead role struggling with God. He likes to use Jim Carrey and all of his films revolve around comedy. Shadyac was involved in stand up comedy early in his career.
Original Release Form/Venue:
Originally released for theaters.
Current Availability and Formats:
Released onto DVD on July 17, 2001 and is not available on blu-ray disc. Available on Netflix. Clips available through wingclips.com and hulu.com.
Dramatic Comedy – PG 13, 115 Minutes
The plot of this film is central to the story, which is based on the real life story of Hunter Adams. “Patch” Hunter Adams (Robin Williams) was a troubled man who voluntarily committed himself into a mental institution. Once there, he finds that he has the ability to help others there, which gives him a purpose in life. Inspired, he leaves the asylum and vows to become a doctor to help people professionally. Yet, what he finds at medical school is a rigid philosophy that advocates an arms-length attitude to the patients that does not address their emotional needs or the quality of their lives. “Patch” Adams is determined to find a better way to help them, defying the rules of the medical school and finding himself at the mercy of the dean.
Patch Adams is the star vehicle of the film. He is the most liked and hated student at the medical school, because of his sense of humor and his unique way of treating patients. Other characters central to the film are Carin (Monica Potter), Patch’s schoolmate and love interest. Carin’s character changes from a very cold and focused person to one who buys into Patch’s way of treating patients, which ultimately leads to her demise. Dean Walcott (Bob Gunton) is the antagonist, who dislikes Patch’s ways and tries to prevent him from acquiring his medical license.
Film Language Elements:
Camera shots and angles are central to this film. The director is intentional about using different angles to focus on particular things. For instance, at the end of the film Patch is standing on the edge of a cliff and the camera follows a rock following off the cliff showing how far down the distance is. Yet in the same scene the camera then is shot from the bottom of the cliff looking up at Patch to show the distance from the bottom to where he stands. All throughout the film, the camera angles highlight particular pieces that the director is emphasizing.
The lighting in the film is also important. When Patch enters the hospital room of the man in room #305, the lighting is very dark, which echoes his personality and the problems that he has caused the staff of the hospital. As Carin goes to meet Larry at his home its dark and the lighting in the house is dark as it portrays that something is not quite right. The camera angle shows Larry getting his coat out of the closet but the camera shifts from him going into the closet to shooting from inside the closet to facing out. The closet is dark and Carin is in the background as the door shuts the lights go out.
Audience/Cultural Context Elements:
The intended audience for this film is adults. Robin William’s humor adds a flare to the film that invites those who enjoy his films to view this one. The story of the film shows how an older man who does not have a strong educational background and has his own share of issues, is able to overcome his circumstances and excel in a medical school program to the point that he’s the top of his class. His oddities are both his strength and his curse as he tries to help others. Tom Shadyac directed the film and is consistent in presenting a main character who struggles with God, using both drama and humor.
This film is best used to teach adults because of the age and setting of the film, but independent clips could be used with high school students as well.
Theology is Found:
Theology is found intentionally in this film. The theological themes that are present are real life issues that everyone struggles with – particularly sickness, sinfulness, and death; and how we deal with these issues.
Theological Themes for Conversation:
Serving one another out of love and care
Joy of laughter and fellowship
How we treat others – (lording ourselves over others vs. humility)
Daring to be different
Sinful humanity – the reality of evil
Dealing with sickness and death
Where is God when bad things happen to us?
Does God even care?/ Being angry with God
God’s responses to our frustrations and concerns
Suggested Use of Film:
This film is best used as a clarification or deepening of theological themes. For instance, at the end of the film when Patch is angry with God about Carin’s death, he is shouting out to God telling him that he should have not taken the seventh day off, but learned how to be compassionate. In this moment of anger, a butterfly flies up and lands on his heart. Carin had told him that she wanted to be a butterfly and fly away. The metamorphosis of the butterfly is a symbol of resurrection and new life, that gives Patch assurance that she is okay. Immediately Patch’s demeanor changes and he realizes that God indeed has compassion.
Recommended Amount/Parts of Film to View & How to View It:
This film could be used to show stand-alone clips to engage in theological conversation, but will require setting the scene and explaining where the scene picks up. It could also be watched in its entirety and then used to have conversation following the film.