When Vivien Thomas was needing some work,
He found some with Alfred Blalock,
A pioneer surgeon experimenting
On dogs and the study of shock.
Though just an assistant, he learned very fast,
His hands and his memory deft.
He found that he loved seeing life at its source,
And he followed Blalock when he left.
They went to Johns Hopkins, a researching team
But odd because Thomas was black.
He raised many eyebrows among the white staff,
But Blalock defended his knack.
Blalock’s latest challenge was finding a cure
For sick babies who had turned blue.
Both Thomas and he labored tirelessly,
Though heart surgery was taboo.
When Thomas realized that he was a class 3,
Two grades below what he should be,
He made the fact known, and Blalock pulled some strings
And gave him the right guarantee.
They worked and they worked till the dogs were blue too,
As test cases for operation.
Through Vivien’s help, they obtained a solution,
Albeit with some complication.
The time at last came: the first heart surgery,
On a blue baby on her deathbed.
Blalock needed Vivien close by his side
And turned sickly blue to light red.
His wondrous success changed the medical world
And garnered him instant acclaim,
But Thomas was troubled and quit his job when
Blalock wouldn’t mention his name.
In time, he decided the work’s what he loved,
Returning to Johns Hopkins soon.
For decades he served as a faithful technician
With skills that no man could impugn.
Though Blalock passed on, a large portrait of him
Still hangs in the hall, not alone.
For next to his doctor is Vivien Thomas,
Who earned a portrait of his own.

Something the Lord Made was an HBO film that I just happened to watch one day for the peculiarity of the very British Alan Rickman playing a southern doctor, and he skillfully pulled it off. Not only is his accent well-replaced, but he plays Dr. Alfred Blalock with just the right balance of compassion and egotism. Mos Def is even more remarkable as Vivien Thomas, the carpenter-turned-lab technician who helped to change the world of medicine without ever going to college. I noticed during this latest viewing that his facial expressions are not particularly varied, but he successfully evokes every emotion, from the focus and tension of the operations to the betrayal felt when he is ignored for his contributions to the quiet awe and gratitude when he is finally awarded such recognition.

The film is not for the very squeamish since there are some surgery scenes, though they’re not too graphic. Also, modern-day animal rights activists would probably have prevented Blalock’s breakthrough by taking away the dogs on which he experimented. The scenes of the surgeons cutting into upturned canines may displease some animal lovers, but it paved the way for modern heart surgery, saving millions of lives.

As usual, there is some completely unnecessary foul language, and the make-up to age the characters is non-existent (just grayed hair), but there are certainly more positives than negatives. It presents many racist period details, such as blacks’ sitting at the back of the bus and vacating sidewalks for whites, but mostly as details, facts of life for the characters. The sensitive relationship between Blalock and Thomas is the highlight of the film, a little-known piece of history that is truly amazing when you think about it. I don’t watch a lot of HBO films due to their content, but if there were more like this one, I would.

Best line: (Vivien Thomas) “The dead are with us all the time, I believe. Can’t separate the past from the future any more than you can your right arm and your left arm.
(Dr. Blalock) “Ah, but, you see, they are separated by this, by the heart.”
(Thomas) “Or connected.”
(Blalock) “Or connected.”


Artistry: 9
Characters/Actors: 10
Entertainment: 8
Visual Effects: N/A
Originality: 8
Watchability: 8
TOTAL: 43 out of 60


Next: #180 – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

© 2014 S. G. Liput

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