The Side Sickness

Helmet, Persian, Iran, 18th Century

Helmet, Persian, Iran, 18th Century

In the middle ages, disease, its cause and its cure were all a mystery. For most forms of illness, the only treatment was prayer. One disease called side sickness was universally recognized as a death sentence, a very painful one at that. Side sickness, what we now call appendicitis, was incurable then and is the motivation for the German movie, The Physician (2013), available now on Netflix. A period drama set in the 11th century, it tells the story of a Christian boy, Rob Cole (Tom Payne), who first witnesses his mother’s death from side sickness. Orphaned, he latches onto a traveling barber, what passes for a doctor then in Europe. He hopes to find a cure for the side sickness that killed his mother. The elderly barber eventually succumbs to another illness, but Rob is able to save his life by entreating the assistance of visiting Jewish physicians. From them he also learns the source of their advanced medical training, Persia. Masquerading as a Jew, Cole travels to the Middle East during the Crusades, where he meets Ibn Sina (Ben Kingsley) the teacher of physicians. Before it decays into a sand-and-sandals melodrama, this movie is most notable in its relatively evenhanded treatment of Muslims, a rarity these days in Western cinema.

22 thoughts on “The Side Sickness

  1. Rarity? Please. If only you held the same standard of humanity and fairness to the middle eastern world. Hypocrite much?

    • Agreed, many elements of the story aren’t historically accurate. It’s fiction and only people who know history of the 11th century notice that. The story itself is quite consistent.

      The ‘side sickness’ by the way is appendicitis, which wasn’t understood and considered incurable.

  2. Quite a few historical inaccuracies, most glaring ones being London having the White Tower fifty years before its actual construction date, and Ibn Sina committing suicide (he actually died of a recurring illness), but it was an adaptation of a novel

  3. I am grateful for having learned what “side sickness” was, that Ibn Sini is Avicenna, and for your felicitous phrase “Before it decays into a sand-and-sandals melodrama,” a fair assessment in my view of the overall production.

  4. I watched this move this week and thought it was a wonderful portrayal or the harshness of life at the time. I thoroughly enjoyed it and didnt want it to end. Fascinating!

  5. A very good flick. Evenhanded on Muslims? Perhaps. But I think the latest version of Robyn Hood does more of that. At any rate, religion in the movie is portrayed a bit like a hindrance to learning, which is not always the case. Often religion promotes higher learning to.

  6. i think it portrayed Islamic religion as having hindrance to learning, whereas fact is that ibnesina himself was a great scholar on religions and deeply religious himself (memorising Quran at the age of 10). The melodrama appeals to western mindset perhaps that Islam is the greatest hindrance towards science where Mullahs are shown as being the face of it, while those that indulged in pleasures (wine and women) were somehow ‘enlightened’. Thats the farcical narrative this fiction wants to bring forward to appeal to its western audience. Even Jews are shown as more ‘humane’ in being no divisive while Mullahs are shown to ignite the whole town. Even handed..yeah right!

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