In five short years since its release, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer has won a Pulitzer Prize and was described by Time as one of the 100 most influential books of the past 100 years. The book, written by Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, an Indian-born American oncologist, tells the history of cancer treatment and research through more modern advancements seen today. It was written as a response to what Mukherjee states was demand from patients: “I’m willing to go on fighting, but I need to know what it is that I’m battling.”
Recently, PBS aired a three-part series directed by renowned documentary-maker, Ken Burns, chronicling patients, families, physicians, and researchers who have lived through significant events in the history of cancer over the past 50 years. The series is an elaboration of the book to some extent, emphasizing milestones in our understanding of cancer—it dissects events that ultimately tell a story of which we still do not know the ending.
There are underlying storylines to keep you riveted, such as how drastic of a procedure are we willing to endure for the sake of treatment. There’s also the parallel of two children who “The Emperor” sets up as protagonists of sorts. As a viewer, you want nothing more than for them to beat the disease as their stories unfold. Although it may be hard to fathom your own morbidity, you are reminded of how quickly that could change within the few words of a diagnosis.
As someone who shares information that can help prevent cancer or about how to get treatment, I am reminded of how big the picture really is and how many moving parts there are. Unless you are deeply involved in the world of cancer, the documentary is appropriately educational for a wide audience. The information presented is thorough, but the personal storylines keep you invested. We watch through Burns’ artful eye as patients navigate through hospitals seeking a cure, battling between emotions of tragedy and then hope over and over. We bite our nails hoping for positive outcomes and get sucked into the drama of their personal catharses.
What other news-type documentary’s lack, Ken Burns brings to life through his own personal experiences with the disease (his mother passed away from breast cancer early in his life) and cinematography. If there is a biography of cancer, this would be it.
To watch the film in its entirety visit: http://video.pbs.org/program/story-cancer-emperor-all-maladies/
To purchase the book The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer visit:
Official website: http://cancerfilms.org/