Medicine Man’s Race Against Time
by Ignatius F. Makarevich
Humankind lives in a world that makes very little logical sense. This state of affairs is self-inflicted, which makes the very longevity of our species seem destined for brevity. Your author feels that the maximization of our time span on earth, both as individuals and as a species, should be a top focus of our best efforts.
There are forces that seem hell-bent on the prevention of such efforts from succeeding. It is quite literally a race against time. Ironically, both edges of the sword are actually variations of the same root cause, economic greed. Of course, one side is good, the other evil.
We have the technology now to destroy the world or to save it. It is our choice.
Nowhere is this terrible state of affairs told in a more eloquent, visceral way than in Medicine Man, the 1992 film by John McTiernan, with its star, Sean Connery, also expressing his deep concern for our plight by taking on the additional role of executive producer.
The film opens with the journey of Dr. Rae Crane, a research scientist for Aston Laboratories, so wonderfully played by Lorraine Bracco, from the airport to the remote field laboratory of Dr. Robert Campbell, a brilliant, but eccentric and reclusive botanist, masterfully played to perfection by Mr. Connery. Right from the start, Dr. Crane bears witness to the slash-and-burn tactics currently decimating the rainforests of South America at a rate that is frightening to any right-thinking person. Whilst it is well known that the rainforests house nearly all living things, they also produce a large percentage of the world’s oxygen. Dr. Campbell’s camp is remote enough for a long ride in a single-engine plane, and the burning and deforestation is there for nearly the whole way. Farther still on foot, and then a canoe, brings the native of the Bronx face to face with primitive people, untouched until at best a generation ago by contact with people of Western civilization. Her culture shock is apparent, but she adapts well.
Dr. Campbell needs to adapt as well, as he comes to accept that in the corporate world of pharmaceuticals, the economic well-being of the company comes first, and he is not in a position to call the shots anymore. He also comes to accept that Dr. Crane is a quite competent researcher.
Dr. Crane is shown first hand that Dr. Campbell has discovered the cure for cancer, “the plague of the twentieth century,” as he puts it. It is believed during the course of the film that the source of this miraculous mystery compound comes from a bromeliad flower that grows in a certain kind of tree in only that little patch of forest, one hundred feet up in the canopy. Mr. Connery is informing the people lucky enough to see this film that this is the way life is in the forest. Highly specialized lifeforms exist in only one area of the forest, and nowhere else on earth. A large proportion of medical science’s wonder drugs are derived from rainforest plants, and as is reinforced with appropriate tension throughout the film, that forest is rapidly, very rapidly, being wiped off the face of the earth in the most inefficient way possible. Dr. Crane confirms that our technology is incapable of synthesizing this compound. Therefore, the jungle must remain if the cure for cancer, humankind’s contemporary nirvana, is to be available to the world.
The rapid advance of the road, under construction 24/7, and the smoke that comes with it, leads the two scientists on a path of breakneck-paced work, enlisting the aid of the entire tribe, to reproduce the elusive serum. Everyone is well aware that this patch of rainforest, and the flower, will be gone forever, perhaps in a matter of days.
Things come to a head when the child of the tribe’s only cancer victim, cured by Dr. Campbell’s discovery, comes down with the disease. Dr. Crane is as adamant that the last remaining morsel of the drug remain intact for the world, as Dr. Campbell is that the youth is cured. Crane wins the argument. Imana’s father takes the child away in the night to visit the shaman who left, inadvertently unseated by Dr. Campbell. Campbell and Crane go with a small entourage to learn the secret from the medicine man, and discover that there is no magic in the flower. Campbell is devastated but determined to keep trying. Dr. Crane reverses her stance and turns to her inner morals and newfound love for the tribal family and administers the drug, saving little Imana from death.
Batch after batch of serum turns up useless in subsequent tests, until the very last one. It is then that the true source of the miracle compound reveals itself. Scant hours later, sheer terror prevails as the bulldozers, flames and trucks arrive with arrogant operators who beat back Dr. Campbell’s effort to stop them. The morning sheds light on a pile of ashes where there once stood the most significant laboratory on the earth.
Fortunately, the film ends with optimism, and an endearing love between the two sparring heroes. Refusing to accept defeat, the two scientists go off in search of their now known quarry. Humankind can only pray that they exist somewhere else in the rainforest.
Mr. Connery has given the world a head’s up on what may be the most important task of our time, the saving of the rainforest, earth’s most valuable resource. He and Ms. Bracco have portrayed the valiant efforts of the forces of technology and ethics used for the benefit of the human race. They have also shown the tenuous nature of the effort, faced as it is by ignorance and greed running amok at terrific speed. The vast splendor of the rainforest of South America, as well as it’s implications for the future of the human race, are very well portrayed in this film. One can only hope that viewers will be inspired to learn more about what the rainforest does, and can do, for the benefit of the earth and the residents thereon.
Bravo to the cast and crew of Medicine Man. Messages told in such a delightful way will not be forgotten anytime soon.