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JOHN Q

A Film Review
By Priam Gabriel D. Salidaga

The film John Q, despite of its thin plot as it is centered only on the
struggle of parents, a father specifically, to save a son from death, has
succeeded in gluing audience to their seats through the unpredictability of
subplots and richness of its characters. The characters are so well thought and
well developed that they effectively depict the faces, not just of every
American, but of today’s every man.

Among the characters who stand out and can easily be remembered and
whom audience can relate to are the hospital administrator Rebecca Payne
(portrayed by Anne Heche) and the City Police Chief Monroe (Ray Liota).
That without forgetting also the other brilliant performers in the movie: Denzel
Washington on the lead role as John Q. Archibald, and the legendary Robert
Duvall (Lt. Frank Grimes) and James Wood (Dr. Turner).

Rebecca Payne is the epitome of a worker who seems so inoculated to


horrid situations that she becomes numbed and mechanized. Focusing only on
the primary purpose of her duty as administrator, which is to maintain the status
quo of the hospital and to maximize profit of the business, that she has forgotten
her humanity. To her, life in itself is a crisis, a struggle, and there is no human
being who can do about it; people get sick, they go to the hospital, they either
get well or die, and they pay their bills. And the survivors go on living; and the
hospital business goes on in circle, without stopping at anybody’s wellness or
death.

Chief Monroe on the other hand represents those people in our society,
some of whom are politicians, who are hungry for power and prestige. He
works more for positive public image than for spiritual growth. Without the
consideration of conscience, life to him is his market value, that price tag
pinned on his vest by his superior. He looks at the crisis of other people as an
opportunity for self-aggrandizement, to be a “hero” in front of the public,
without considering morality in his act. Unfortunately for him, in this movie,
such display of chauvinism does not pay off.

The reaction of the people to the hostage crisis as brought by the media
into their very homes does not serve the police officers well. In situations like a
hostage drama, always the public opinion is influenced by the point of view of
the media. And that is what makes the reaction typical. The people love John
because the media projects him as a lovable man --- a good man victimized by
an unfair system or situation. They love John because, in one way or another,
they get a glimpse of their own selves in him. The reaction could have been
different if the media projected his image the total opposite--- a wicked man
bringing havoc inside a hospital facility. Besides, people love the underdogs,
and it happens John is one. Hence, automatically, just like in the soap operas
we love, the antithesis, like the police, becomes the nemesis.
According to Newstrom and Davis in their book, Organizational
Behavior, human needs are not of equal strength, but may emerge in some
priority pattern. As in the case of John, the priority need for his son’s heart
transplant fall under what Maslow considered as the first two-need levels or
typically called as lower-order needs: physiological needs, and safety and
security needs. It is the need for economic security that he falls short of since
he and his wife Denise (Kimberly Elise) both have unstable jobs. They maybe
able to provide their son Mike with basic necessities as food, shelter, and
clothing, and send him to a decent school, but they do not have enough
financial fund to secure their future against contingencies like sickness and
disability. Such unachieved need for economic security can propel anyone to
take such unusual and desperate actions as that of John.

“They are releasing him, now you need to do something! Do you hear
me? Do something!” Denise shouted at her husband John over the phone. This
statement commences the climax of the story as it brings John’s life at the
crossroads. It pushes him to think where to go as a member of society, as a
husband, and especially as a father, leading him ultimately to follow the road
less traveled.

The cry of Denise “to do something” is so loaded with messages. On the


superficies, it asks John to decide and act hastily as a “parent to save a dying
son”. But it is not just about being a parent, for John could have also retorted:
“How about you Denise, shouldn’t you also do something?” In a more in-depth
analysis the message is a reminder of the gender roles every one of us follow on
daily basis as dictated by the society. Otherwise, the audience could have also
seen a Denise, instead of a John, holding hostages inside a hospital facility.

Fatherhood, before it is attached to parenthood, is first and foremost a


gender. It is manliness. Fathers are male species who are expected by the
society to be independent strong achievers, always in control, and who are,
most of all, financial providers. The absence of these qualities makes a father
weakling, “no balls”, and sissy. “Do something John! For God’s sake, you’re
the ‘man’ in this house!” some women love to say that to their very husbands’
faces in the midst of crisis.

John Q is not just a story about the love of parents to a child, nor about
the inequalities in any form (working conditions, access to health insurance,
etc.). In its depth, the film is a story of redemption for people who are willing to
change their indifferent hearts, and to find and regain their lost humanity.