Speaking of racism . . .
Something the Lord Made was one of those sneaker movies -- if you weren't paying attention to HBO last year, it snuck right by you. It's the story of one of the pioneers of open heart surgery, Alfred Blalock (Alan Rickman), and his skilled assistant, Vivien Thomas (Mos Def). In the 1940s, the idea of open heart surgery violated deeply held prejudices in the medical community. "Don't touch the heart" was right up there with "First, do no harm." Blalock and Thomas bucked tradition to develop an operation to cure the congenital defect causing blue baby syndrome. Thomas is portrayed as equal to Blalock in medical insight, superior to Blalock in technical skill. Since he's poor, black, and not an MD, Thomas slips way behind Blalock when the accolades roll in. This is not your typical Hollywood movie. First, they get the medicine right. (Trust me, this is rare.) Second, they resist the urge to promote Blalock to sainthood. Rickman's Blalock is arrogant, a hot-head in the OR, but also kind and charitable. And yet . . . Push comes to shove, he slights Thomas when it comes time to give out credit. It's not blatant racism; it's the subtle variety that creeps into relationships, affecting peoples' assumptions regarding one another. The scene in which Thomas confronts Blalock is stirring. It's hard not to feel a little sympathy for Blalock who, confronted with his prejudice, protests, I've always fought in your corner. It's true, too. But Blalock failed Thomas when it mattered most, and Thomas has called him on it. Thomas's subsequent efforts to stay in medicine in some capacity, in any capacity, are heartbreaking. The scenes depicting his rapprochement with Blalock, and Blalock's eventual roundabout apology, choke me up every time. Something the Lord Made is a fine piece of medical history, but it's an even finer portrait of a relationship between two great men -- one of them, deeply flawed. D.