Monday, January 15, 2007


A LION IN THE HOUSE is a documentary about children with cancer. I feel like MrCranky for saying this, but this is the kind of movie that should be apportioned as punishment to criminals. I can't imagine anyone in their right mind WANTING to watch a 4-hour movie about children dying. "See a child vomit while having a feeding jammed down his throat! See a boy get a hole drilled is his head! See a 4 year-old girl cry while getting a spinal tap! See the corpses of several dead children at the end!"

OK, there's a reason this movie is important. It should be required viewing for parents of children who have been diagnosed with cancer. They need to know what they are about to go through, and maybe seeing what other people do right, and wrong, will help them deal with it better.

There are plenty of wonderful moments. Most interesting to me is how strong the children are and how they maintain good attitudes in the absolute worst of conditions. One kid who turns 20 in the movie has suffered with Leukemia for almost a decade. And he's funny. The children are willing to ask about death before the parents are willing to accept it.

In two cases, when it comes time for the children to die, the parents just can't deal with it and leave their children alone in the hospital to die. It's hard to judge someone in that extreme a case, yet it just seems wrong.

But more importantly, there's a definite pattern among the actions of the parents. In several cases, they refuse to accept death for much too long of a time. At some point you have to consider quality of life over length of lifespan. Particularly with the fathers of the patients, they seem to be unwilling to give up. At some level this is admirable, but ultimately they admit after the deaths that they held out too long and will feel lifelong guilt as a result.

There are some structural problems in the film. Four hours on a topic like this is just too much. They could have easily cut an hour out. Even worse, it's split in two parts with an intermission, and in the first part we are introduced to only 3 of the 5 patients. At the end of the first part, it looks very, very bad for all three. At the intermission, I was very tempted to stop watching. It is very, very difficult viewing. In part two, we introduce the other 2 characters, intercut with the other 3. Structurally this feels very weak as the introductions now seem like redundancies to what we had already seen in part 1.

There are a lot of examples of sloppy filmmaking. The voiceover is both terribly written and inconsistent; it states the obvious, yet does not explain enough early on for story to be easily followed. It's also very poorly read (did they grab a passerby and ask, "Hey, can your read? Yes? You're hired!") There's very little music, but what exists is sadly manipulative in a film that does not need it.

However, if you can stomach this material, it is worth viewing.
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