I Think I Need a New Heart


Mulholland Drive began with a car crash, then inscribed the statuesque blankness of Laura Elena Harring’s Rita with Hollywood dread; the new hostages-and-hankies drama John Q. also gets things rolling with automotive disaster, and when Harring materializes a few scenes later, the optimist may feel a certain dream-state tingle before she reverts to anonymity. What lingers is the dread. The movie is The Negotiator refashioned around Helen Hunt’s “fucking HMOs!” outburst in As Good as It Gets, with Denzel Washington and a team of alpha males on hand to offset the hysterics, not to mention the Larry King Live-caliber discussions on the sorry state of medical coverage.

When economically beleaguered family man John Quincy Archibald (Washington) can’t get his suddenly dying son, Mike, onto the heart-donor waiting list, he grabs a gun and locks down the ER. “This hospital’s under new management now,” he announces. “Free medical care for everybody.” The hostages—including James Woods’s transplant surgeon, a truth-to-power medical resident, a pregnant woman, and a soul brother—develop severe Stockholm syndrome, and as news spreads about what “John Q.” represents, his implied last name forms a sea of support surrounding the wall of blue. (And when he vows, “I will not bury my son—my son will bury me,” as police multiply outside, the line echoes journalist Peter Noel’s immortal cover-line challenge in these pages: “If a cop kills my son, I will kill the cop.”) The reiteration of Mike’s blood type, B-positive, is hardly subliminal in its prescription for hard times.

After a sinuous, irresistible turn as Training Day‘s heart of darkness, Washington is in default dignified mode here. He capably embodies the hero’s transformation from doughy dad to man of action, amid the movie’s shameless button-pushing and cheap religious overlay. Though better acted than Extreme Measures (surgeon Hugh Grant discovers where spare parts really come from), and with a broader social vision than Untamed Heart (Christian Slater gets simian thumper, Marisa Tomei), John Q. represents a creative dead end for the organ-transplant movie, a genre that perhaps begins at the height of glory with Eyes Without a Face.

Spanning a century, the assorted incarnations of Peter Pan—from J.M. Barrie’s 1904 play and his wry, conversational 1911 novelization to Disney’s 1953 film and its current sequel, Return to Never Land, though Hook fans need not apply—suggest a creation as powerful as myth; I cannot be the first to have discovered the goat-gammed god in the surname. (As Pan derives from the Greek for food, the brand-name peanut butter might be included in the above list.) Besides Wendy’s role as mother of the Lost Boys, there is the microscopic foxiness and havoc-wreaking jealousy of Tinker Bell (the former made flesh by Kylie Minogue’s Green Fairy in Moulin Rouge)—to say nothing of Peter Pan’s other swooning female admirers: the shell-bra’d mermaids and Indian princess Tiger Lily, Disney-movie-in-embryos all. Freud would have had a field day with this Edwardian fairy tale; indeed, psychiatrists informally refer to a Peter Pan complex, and an article about the “Peter Pan and Wendy Syndrome” (Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, June 1982) describes a marital dynamic between a narcissistic, asexual husband and a long-suffering, depressed wife (she “depends upon him for protection from hidden impulses”). And I haven’t even mentioned Sandy Duncan yet.

Framed by the London blitz, Return to Never Land is a brisk, reverent, and subtly different sequel. Wendy now has a family of her own; her husband is off to fight, and daughter Jane has turned prematurely serious and practical, following her father’s request to take care of the family. Kidnapped by Captain Hook, rescued by the ageless Peter Pan, she openly disdains the Never-Landian trinity of faith, trust, and pixie dust. Her eventual acceptance of a healthy fantasy life is more astute than maudlin, and the low-key animation, featuring little that could not have appeared in its ’50s predecessor, is all the more affecting for being so pristinely preserved.