Reel Caregiving: Glimpses of Caregiving – The Elephant Man

The Elephant Man is a story of how people with disabilities are often mistreated, isolated and deprived of basic human rights. In the 19th century, they were termed as freaks or monsters, and were used as a spectacle in circus for entertainment.

 In this movie, John Merrick suffers from a disorder which causes disfigurement of his body. He is a prisoner of Bytes, who earns money by displaying John to the public in a circus. He is regularly starved and beaten.

 Dr. Frederick Treves, who works at the London hospital and wants to enhance his medical reputation, brings John under his care to better understand his condition. He eventually realizes that John is constantly abused by Bytes and decides to provide him with constant care in the hospital. Dr. Frederick assumes that John cannot comprehend language, but later finds out that he can indeed understand, speak, read and write.

Impact of caregiving on Dr. Frederick Treves

As a professional caregiver, Dr. Frederick fights for John’s safety. He cares for him and prepares him to meet other people. Even the nurses who were first afraid of John realized he was just like anyone else. John soon starts making friends but Dr. Frederick worries if he’s a good person or if this is causing John to be a public spectacle all over again. He is constantly threatened by Bytes but continues to protect John. He convinces the head doctor that John is worthy of proper treatment. Later, he is able to give John permanent residence in the hospital. In the end, John is not just a patient, but also becomes his dearest friend.

Impact of caregiving on John Merrick

John Merrick, also called the Elephant man, is 21 years old and has a rare condition which causes tumors to grow all over his body. He has difficulty in walking, talking and even sleeping. He is afraid of social interaction due to his prolonged abuse. He misses his mother who died, and carries a photograph of her with him. He feels like a disappointment to her and is in desperate need to prove to others that he is good. Initially, John wore a piece of rag over his head in public so that people wouldn’t get scared looking at him. But under Dr. Treves’ constant care and the support of his new friends, he is able to dress well without covering his deformities and interact with others just like any other human. He also often breaks down crying because he’s not used to people treating him so well.

Often, people with disabilities are considered as objects to be stared at and made fun of. No matter the disorders they suffer from or the way they look and behave, they are human beings and need to be treated as one.

This movie is available to watch on Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Review Courtesy: Carol Saldanha

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