Extremis Review

Extremis film poster.png

Genre: Medical Documentary/Docudrama
Year Released: 2016
Distributor: Netflix

Origin: USA
Running Time: 24 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: PG-13

Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: The American Nurse, Code Black, The English Surgeon, Escape Fire, The Waiting Room
Notes: N/A

Fun Facts:
-Extremis was nominated for Best Documentary Short Subject at this year’s Oscar’s.

-Director Dan Krauss has also made documentaries such as Inequality for All, The Kill Team, and O.J.: Made In America. He’s also worked on several episodes of Nova.

-This was filmed at Highland Hospital in Oakland, California. It’s the same hospital that was featured in the documentary the Waiting Room.

As one may have seen from my Art of the Short Film review, I’m expanding my reviewing repertoire to include short films and anthologies. Besides that aforementioned DVD and The Garden of Words, I haven’t tackled many shorter films. However, this changes as I do an Iridium Eye first: reviewing a short documentary. I’ve liked documentaries for while, but I’ve been on a big kick quite recently after renting I Am Not Your Negro (review coming soon), but I wanted to check out ones from various subjects and lengths.

Looks like one of those prospects was available for instant streaming. Thanks, Netflix.

Extremis is a short documentary that deals with dying patients in Highland Hospital’s ICU department. There are various patients hooked up to all kinds of tubes and machinery after suffering terminal illnesses or severe injuries around. Many of them are incommunicado, so it’s up to these families to decide the ultimate fate of their loved ones. Should their suffering family members be taken off these breathing tubes and other medical apparatuses or should they be permanently hooked up to these and/or additional machines? These questions are brought up to several of these families.

The visuals and production values are stunning in Extremis. Even though it’s just a documentary that’s not even half and hour, I’d say that the cinematography makes medical dramas like Gray’s Anatomy and Chicago Med look like student films by comparison. The usage of darker tones and lighting is superb. Even the B-roll footage of the medical equipment are in impeccable detail. Kudos to all the filmmakers who made this look as good as possible. Sure, any big studio can make something look as high-definition as possible, but I appreciate them making sure that they fit the aesthetics and atmosphere of Extremis.

The plight of the patients is just heartbreaking. Seeing these patients hooked up to so many machines is sobering and very relatable. I’ve seen family members in their last stages in life needing things like oxygen tanks, but never this much equipment on their person. This subject is quite universal because even if it hasn’t happened to you, there will be a time where you will see someone close to their situation or be exactly like them. Not all of the patients are of advanced age though. There is one orderly who says that she’s only thirty-eight years old, but she’s attached to so many breathing apparatuses. That was sobering to watch. Watching Extremis will be very depressing, so you’ve been warned.

Selena and Donna are the main patients that the film focuses on. Both of them can’t talk in their condition. Donna has so much trouble communicating that she has to point at pictures of letters while the doctors have to spell out what she’s saying. Seeing that happen just made my heart sink. She also tries to get out of the straps, but to no avail lest she rip out the tubes in her. Both of their respective families obviously want what’s best for their loved ones, but they are trying to figure out the best way. Selena’s family wants to make sure that their dying matriarch is able to live longer. They are all highly spiritual and believe that it’s God’s will how she’s going to live.

While Extremis has great production values and does a solid job at humanizing these suffering families, I wish some things could’ve been improved. The film doesn’t focus on all the patients that get screen time. The thirty-eight year old woman is only seen twice and isn’t brought up again. I thought she had an interesting story. There was also a homeless man who becomes an afterthought very quickly which can be an unfortunate implication in itself. Sure, the other families aren’t rolling in the dough, but the lack of attention to that patient in particular gives the impression that poor people don’t matter. There’s also shades of white savior syndrome since the main doctor who’s shown is Dr. Jessica Zitter, a Caucasian woman who’s mainly seen around Donna and Selena who are both minorities. It’s nowhere near as bad as how OT: Our Town got on that issue and you do see medical faculty members of all colors, but I wished they could have framed the film differently by showing patients of all skin tones equally and consistently like the aforementioned thirty-eight year old mom since that could’ve lessened that implication on principle.

Extremis is a solid short documentary even though it gets quite morbid with the overtones of impending death. There are some good arguments on both sides as they talk about people’s medical rights if they can’t speak. The production values are quite impressive while adding to the severity of these stories in the ICU. I would’ve liked to known more about the different patients and not just Selena and Donna. The ending was also rushed even though there is a great scene in the finale of Donna being able to speak quietly. Possibly an extra ten to fifteen minutes could’ve helped Extremis a lot. It’s a short watch, but it’s quite a sobering one.

Adjustable Point System:

Add 1 point if you like medical documentaries
Subtract 3 points if you hate depressing subjects in documentaries

-Immaculate cinematography
-Defensible arguments on patient’s rights on both sides
-The family drama with Donna and Selena

-Lack of attention to other patients
-Shades of white savior implications with Dr. Jessica Zitter
-The ending was too rushed

Final Score: 7/10 points

Content Warning: There aren’t any offensive things, but the subject matter would be best for teens and up. There are dying people in this hospital hooked up to several tubes and machines which will disturb several viewers. There’s one piece of dialog where Dr. Zitter mentions in passing when she put a catheter in someone’s neck during her time as a trainee which has very startling imagery since one can make a case for it being accidental torture. There’s also the concept of having someone choosing when to live or die which isn’t an easy decision at all. Extremis is also quite depressing, so don’t watch this if you’re really sad.

-Curtis Monroe

All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws.

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