Top 10 – Celluloid Carcinoma

Refusing to die when your time is up can bring awful consequences for the living.

Picture this: a defiant ‘entity’ makes a getaway while on death row and finds shelter undetected. Having successfully escaped, it lives longer than most of its contemporaries. Any search for it ends in failure. With the passage of time the legend of its invincibility grows, emboldening the entity’s ego.


Other weaker individuals nearing their own end hear of its immortality and join forces with the promise of eonian power. Fiercely attached to life’s magnet this threatening army grows, amassing numbers capable of downing naturalized systems.

Emboldened, raiding parties are sent out to establish outposts as newer frontiers are conquered, all dissent quelled and the areas under dominance expanded.


This scenario, adjusted for narrative effect, can be an allegorical representation of a number of fabled histories, even riots, revolts and conflicts not dictated by sanity or justice. And if you substitute the above mentioned ‘entity’ with a ‘mutant human cell’ this battle takes a personal inner dimension of the fight against cancer. Just one rogue cell can cause havoc, infectiously growing into a tumor to cleave a healthy body.


As a plot device, cancer patients in films carry a pronounced death sentence even though the chances of survival have exponentially improved with modern medicine. It’s probably because in dramatic construction, the life and death premise dominates with the most gravitas. Learning to live again (even briefly) while facing certain death is all about reclaiming, reinventing and reiterating the triumph of the unconquerable spirit of brave individuals. And that makes for a helluva four-handkerchief story.

As fictional cinema can only imitate created reality and has to conform to plotting and characterization, often oncological themes do not deal with the connected medical procedures but with human apprehensions, mortality and relationships.


Commemorating those we could not save and celebrating the warriors who survived, on World Cancer Day (04 Feb) here are my favorites in no particular order:

1) Anand (1971)Anand-01

Sugar coated pop philosophy coming from a candy voiced hero still packs a wallop. The late Rajesh Khanna in the eponymous role of Anand Sehgal is out to befriend the world before a permanent shut eye.


Anand: Babumoshai, zindagi lambi nahin, badi honi chahiye. (It’s the depth and not the length of life that matters)


2) Terms of Endearment (1983)Terms-of-Endearment-01

About a cantankerous, feisty mother reconciling with her daughter’s illness and making peace with their combative relationship.

Aurora: I just don’t want to fight anymore.
Emma: When do we fight?
Aurora: WHEN do we FIGHT? I always think of us as fighting!
Emma: That’s because you’re never satisfied with me

3) Bucket List (2007)Bucket-List-01

Cancer does not discriminate about the color of skin. An unlikely bond develops between two men from diametrical backgrounds and the discovery of having much in common.

Carter: Everyone’s afraid to die alone.

Edward: I’m not everyone! This was supposed to be fun. That’s all it ever was.


4) Love story (1970)Love-Story-01

The heart breaking tear-jerker (based on Erich Segal’s novel) brought cancer sharply in focus in the seventies.

It features the mesmerizing Oscar winning musical score by Francis Lai, delectable leads and the famous tagline: Love means never having to say you’re sorry.

5) Ikiru {To Live} (1952)Ikiru-01

Having led a meaningless life of a career bureaucrat, the hero tries to leave behind something worthy the world will remember him by.

Kanji: I can’t afford to hate people. I don’t have that kind of time.

Novelist: How tragic that man can never realize how beautiful life is until he is face to face with death.

6) Brian’s Song (1971)Brians-Song-01

True story of an unlikely friendship set against the background of competitive football. A film renowned for “reducing  grown men to tears”.

Gale Sayers: [accepting the George S. Halas award] I’d like to tell you about a friend of mine. He has the heart of a giant, and that rare form of courage that allows him to kid himself and his opponent, cancer.


7) Sweet November (2001)Sweet-November-01

With time running out, Sara takes on a new lover every month as she undertakes to transform their commonplace subsistence by shining the light on the mislaid destinations of their lives.

Sara: What are you doing?
Nelson Moss: Buying redemption.
Sara: Redemption’s not for sale today


8) My life (1993)My-Life-01

Detected with end stage condition, a public relations executive makes a video diary for his unborn child whom he may never meet; and realizes the superficiality of his squandered life.

Bob: Today’s D-Day. Death day. I’m supposed to be dead today. From now on, I’m living on borrowed time.

Bob: Dying’s a really hard way to learn about life


9) My sister’s keeper (2009)My-Sisters-Keeper-01

A daughter is specially conceived to serve as an organ donor for her malignant elder sister. However, complications ensue when she refuses to donate her kidney; targeted at every dry eye in the house.

Anna: [lowers voice, imitating a male] Hey baby, what’s your sign?
Kate: Cancer.
Anna: You’re a cancer?
Kate: No, I’m a Leo.
Anna, Kate: But I have cancer.

10) 50/50 (2011)50-50-Seth-Rogen_Joseph-Gordon-Levitt-01

One of the few films that injects some humor in an otherwise dreadful situation of cancer treatment, Joseph Levitt and Seth Rogen play on the impending fatality with a straight face.

Adam: A tumor?
Dr. Ross: Yes.
Adam: Me?
Dr. Ross: Yes.
Adam: That doesn’t make any sense though. I mean… I don’t smoke, I don’t drink… I recycle…


As Mister Spock famously stated, “All of you, live long and prosper”.


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