50/50: A Very Personal Review

Adam starts having pain in his back. Finally enough to warrant a trip to the doctor. Adam is young and lives a clean upstanding life.  Cancer was not what he was expecting. He has to now figure out how to handle the situation and what he can do with his life. What might be left of it.

This is the plot of 50/50 which is based on true events that happened to Seth Rogen’s friend. It’s also a a story based on millions of people who go through the same thing all the time. No one is ever prepared to hear the news that they have cancer, nor are their friends and family.  Adam (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has to cope with not only having cancer, but explaining it to his girlfriend, his family, and his friends. He goes through the all the stages of grief in the film, which is handled perfectly by not spelling it out all the time as in ‘now he’s angry, now he’s accepting’.

The movie walks the line between comedy and drama wonderfully. It’s hard to make a film about a subject like this and be able to pull it off. But if you have ever been in this situation it really is a cathartic experience. Not only  for the viewer but you can tell for the filmmakers as well. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is amazing as Adam. He plays the role with vulnerability and strength. You can sense his character holding so much in, trying to keep it together, but there is a moment of release in this movie that is incredibly moving.

I could go on describing what happens in the plot but that’s not the full point of this movie. It’s about the message. It’s about empathy. Now I’m going to go into a bit of a personal story here, so if you are only interested in what I thought of the movie then here’s the long and short of it: It’s a really great movie that feels different unto itself. Definitely worth a look. The performances are great, and the story is uplifting. Rent it.

Now; on the rest if you are still here:

One of my best friends was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 18. It started with a pain in his leg and back. He, like Adam, was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer. Tumor’s were found up and down his back like parasites latching on.  When he told us, none of us believed it at first. I remember getting a call from my friend telling me the news. I didn’t believe him and thought he was just playing a sick joke. It took almost a day until I fully was able to accept that this was not a joke. It was real. He’s 18 years old just a year younger than I was at the time. And he got cancer. I remember the feeling that went amongst my friends when we found out. It was a mixture of disbelief, sadness, and confusion. How do we react to this? Do we talk to him differently now? Should we treat him the same or should we be serious all the time? It’s not a situation that anyone is really able to prepare for and when it happens you don’t know how to react. We did the best we could. The only thing we knew was to just treat him the same. To laugh about it (even if it was a reaction to emotion we weren’t really prepared to handle).

He started chemotherapy and then lost his hair. It took awhile to get used to it, but he loved when girls would come up and rub his head and we’d bust his balls about it. We didn’t leave him out of the razing that everyone else in our group got. He was still a part of us and cancer wasn’t going to change that. But along with the good times we had staying up into the early morning at a local diner talking, laughing, and drinking copious amounts of coffee, there also came the bad times. One day, he wouldn’t show up with us. We would call his house, he was sick and didn’t feel up to coming out. Or his immunities would be shot and he could not be around anyone in case they were sick. Every time things seemed back to normal, something like this would happen and bring home the reality that things weren’t alright.

He went in for round after round of chemo, his hair would grow back and then fall out again. At the point that he could no longer do chemo treatments he went in for radiation treatment. He never really looked sick, just tired. He never lost his sense of humor and was always joking with us just like normal. Then came a day of wonder and followed by crushing despair. He got a call that the treatments had worked. The cancer was gone. We all were so excited and so joyful that we would get our friend back and he beat it. Our elation was extremely short lived. The next day we found out that they had missed something in their scans. The cancer in his back was gone, but it had now spread to his brain. It would not be able to be removed surgically and his body was too worn down from the multiple treatments.

Without anyone saying it we knew what that meant. This was it. Now it was nothing more than time to wait for. And time didn’t wait long. Within about a month, he had died. The cancer moved quickly and luckily spared him months of digression. But it was not kind to those of us left. The next few weeks are almost a blur to me now. I remember bits and pieces of what went on. I remember the tears. I remember the look on my friend’s faces and knowing it was the same look on mine. The one thing I remember and I will never forget was at his viewing. It was held in the auditorium of my high school and it was filled. Snap shots of him and songs he loved played on a projector at the back of the stage. His body in the casket at the bottom of the theater. The walk down to it felt like crawling down a mountain on your knees. When it was my turn to get to the casket and say my goodbyes I looked at my friend. His head was bald, but they did not shave the small stubble of a mustache that had started growing on his lip. I was mad that they left it there. I don’t know why I remember that but I do.

One of the times I’ll never forget was another late night at the diner. It was just him and I that night. I called him up to hang out. We joked a lot that night, and had a lot of laughs. But we also had a serious talk that night. We discussed a lot of what was going on in his life and how he was handling it. It’s what I like to remember when I think back on my friend’s life. I wish I had more time with him. I wish I would have spent more time with him when he was here. I wish a lot of things were different. But that’s how the world works even if it is cruel. I learned a lot from it. Though a lot of the group of us has grown apart as life tends to do, we all still have that experience that will bond us forever. I wish sometimes that the greatest lessons we learn came happier times, but it’s the tough one’s that mean the most.

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6 thoughts on “50/50: A Very Personal Review

  1. Great review and great anecdote of what must have been a terribly difficult and sad experience for you. I wasn’t quite ready for the sadness of that story by the time I got into it, but you’re right: You learn the most about people and bond most closely through tough times. Thanks for sharing and I’m sorry for your loss.

    • Thanks Tommy- it is an experience I don’t wish on anyone, but unfortunately it happens to most of us at one point or the other.

    • what I really appreciated is that it wasn’t played so over the top, and if you’ve been through a similar experience it feels pretty real to life

  2. My sister’s been through it. My mum’s been through it. Both okay now. I had a scare in January – cysts, not threatening but the hospital wants another look at them in six months, just to be sure.

    No matter how good the film is, I don’t want to watch that play out.

    I’m very sorry about your mate. Nicely done recounting that when it must have been painful to do so. Respect.

    • yeah wolf, it was a very difficult time. I also lost my closest relative to cancer which was another huge loss. it’s a terrible thing, and i hate that we haven’t found a way to cure it yet

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