PATIENT 39 is a warm, cinematic story focusing on the relationship between a doctor and his patient. Reading William Boyd’s short story, I was both touched and intrigued by the predicament of a man who wakes without a memory or any sense of who he is. I was struck by how the fragmentation of Patient 39’s senses as he emerges from a coma makes us think about our own sense of consciousness – of what it is to be alive, to be aware, to be ‘me’.
Told in the form of Moran’s medical case notes, the film’s tone of voice is at first scientific. By telling the story of a character with a serious brain injury, it takes us to that enigmatic interface between body and mind, to the mysteries of consciousness, memory and personal identity - mysteries at the heart of modern bio-medical science.
But for me the real heart of the film is to be found in how the rigorous scientific outlook Moran has always relied upon is called into question through the quiet friendship that grows as he cares for his patient. As Moran gets to know Patient 39, so he begins to change, as his eyes are opened to a very different sense of the imagination, of beauty, and of self-awareness.
Through that simple but elegiac journey, it is not just that Moran learns something about himself - we learn something about ourselves too.