Thursday, November 12, 2015

Movie Write-Up: Gifted Hands, the Ben Carson Story

Amidst all the hubbub about Dr. Ben Carson’s life story, I decided to watch the 2009 movie in which Cuba Gooding, Jr. played Dr. Carson.  The movie is based on Ben Carson’s autobiography, and it is entitled, Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story.

I was surprised that I was able to get the movie as quickly as I did.  In light of the current controversy, I was expecting to see “long wait” or “very long wait” beside the title on my Netflix queue, but that was not the case.  I simply requested the movie, put it to the top of my queue, and got it a few days later.

There were aspects of the movie that I liked.  A mom tries to bring the best out of her son, even though she is experiencing problems herself (i.e., depression, illiteracy, the struggle to earn and save money).  An unpopular kid, whom many think is stupid, improves his grades through hard work and a growing love for learning.  A person turns to God for help in taming his temper, and when confronted with delicate challenges.  And one desires to learn through reading books rather than sitting through lectures. (I do both, but I can understand why one would prefer to read books.)

I also came to appreciate Ben Carson’s mind and his contributions to neurosurgery, as he came up with a way to separate siamese twins who were joined at the back of their head (a jarring sight), and as he helped cure a little girl of seizures by removing half of her brain.  In the movie, he seemed to know what he was doing.  He knew stuff, and he knew how to apply the stuff that he knew, and to navigate his way through delicate, life-threatening situations.  Of course, this is just a movie, but I think that part of the movie is believable, for Ben Carson is a reputable neurosurgeon (even though he has had some malpractice suits).  My impression, though, is that he does not display that same level of knowledge and ability to come up with solutions as a Presidential candidate.

My Mom was watching the movie with me, and she thought that the movie was a bit self-aggrandizing on Ben Carson’s part.  I can understand her perspective.  She was comparing the movie to The Grinder, a TV series that we watched right before watching the movie.  In The Grinder, Rob Lowe plays an actor who had played a lawyer on TV and is now working in his family’s law firm.  He is well-intentioned, but he is rather melodramatic and narcissistic.  Gifted Hands had its share of melodrama.  There is also a scene in which a fellow doctor tells Carson that Carson has to come up with a solution to the siamese twins (e.g., to separate them without killing one or both), since Carson is the greatest mind in pediatric neurosurgery, and, if he can’t come up with a solution, nobody can!  As my Mom said, had this movie been based on a biography of Carson, that would be one thing, but it was based on Carson’s own autobiography!  I can understand and appreciate that Dr. Carson wants for his life story to inspire people, but the movie could have toned things down a bit.  Plus, while Dr. Carson is obviously smart, should we really believe that he is the only person in the entire world who could come up with a solution to the siamese twins?  There are plenty of smart people in the world!

After watching the movie, I was thinking about the topic of pulling oneself up by one’s own bootstraps.  Some conservatives may point to Dr. Carson and say to African-Americans: “You see!  You’re holding yourselves back!  If you work hard, you can become anything you want!”  Progressives, by contrast, would tend to point to societal problems and injustice holding African-Americans back.  I definitely believe that people should try to be responsible: Ben Carson’s mom did well to turn off the TV and to have her sons read two books a week and write two book reports.  But, judging from what the movie itself depicted, Ben Carson did have some societal advantages.  As a child, he went to a good public school, which cannot be said of every African-American child.  He had access to a decent public library, which gave him an opportunity to expand his mind.  The movie did not mention affirmative action, but Dr. Carson did succeed in a time when affirmative action was significant.  That is not to imply that he was unqualified, for he did graduate third in his class (according to the movie).  Still, there were a lot of people who graduated third in their class, and they did not get into Yale.  My point is that Ben Carson succeeded through hard work, but also through societal advantages.  It was not either/or.

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