Connecting Modern Medicine with Medieval Humanism: Watching Cristi Puiu’s “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” through the Lens of Dante Alighieri’s “The Divine Comedy”

By Robert J. Bonk.

Published by The Learner Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Modern curricula often constrain the breadth of experience for medical students today by restricting their focus to science and technology. However, to connect more fully with their patients as individuals, medical students must learn to encompass a humanistic view of this challenging field often considered both a science and an art. The medium of film, particularly films outside the students’ typical exposure, provides one avenue for medical educators to achieve this breadth. By balancing the familiarity of medical scenarios with a distance from cognitive dissonance, foreign films allow students to glimpse the human condition unfettered by expectations—as in the 2005 award-winning Romanian film “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” (“Moartea domnului Lăzărescu”). In this realistic film, director Cristi Puiu follows an ailing pensioner, Dante Rebus Lazarescu, in his ambulance shuttle from emergency room to emergency room in modern Bucharest. Overworked physicians readily attribute his symptoms to his confessed drinking. Only the emergency medical technician shows any respect for Lazarescu the person. In essence, she parallels Virgil in guiding Dante Alighieri through his Medieval allegory of Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise in “The Divine Comedy” (“La Divina Commedia”). Viewing Puiu’s film through Dante’s allegorical lens, students can broaden their perspective on medicine.

Keywords: Allegory, Death of Mr. Lazarescu, The (Film), Dante Alighieri, 1265-1321, Puiu, Cristi, Divine Comedy, Humanities—Study & Teaching, Medical Education

The International Journal of Learning, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp.279-288. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.181MB).

Dr. Robert J. Bonk

Associate Professor of Professional Writing, Humanities Division, , College of Arts & Sciences, Widener University, Chester, Pennsylvania, USA

Robert J. Bonk, Ph.D., is an educator and scholar in the medical humanities at Widener University in Chester, Pennsylvania, USA. Currently associate professor of professional writing, Dr. Bonk teaches courses in applied writing—from business and science writing to writing for film, advertising, journalism, and related genres. Additionally, he teaches courses and conducts research on the complex interplay of medicine and health care with the humanities. Among his major publications are two books in the pharmaceutical field, one an award-recipient. Moreover, Dr. Bonk has published and spoken both nationally and internationally about his research; notable topics in the medical humanities include a study of a novel by the Polish author Stanislaw Lem; a comparison of works by Anton Chekhov, William Carlos Williams, and Richard Selzer; and the production of a student-written script about Edward Jenner’s discovery of the smallpox vaccine. Dr. Bonk also incorporates civic engagement into many courses.


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