Life Imitates Art

The 2002 film “John Q” begins with a scene in which a reckless driver dies, clearly at fault, in a horrific car wreck. Her organs, including her heart, are “harvested” or “recovered,” depending on your preferred choice of medical terminology, for purposes of organ donation. That organ recovery drives the plot of the rest of the film, which involves–somewhat heavy-handedly–the transplant of that very heart into a totally unrelated person dying of heart disease. In short, one person’s recklessness becomes her tragic demise; that tragedy becomes another person’s salvation.

The reckless driver is depicted as short-haired and very pretty; she’s also presumably very wealthy–well dressed, well-coiffed, driving a BMW. She’s obviously meant to prefigure the character depicted in the film by Anne Heche, herself a short-haired, well-dressed, well-coiffed, very pretty, very wealthy but very callous hospital executive who, for most of the film, blocks the organ transplant in question on financial grounds. The viewer is invited to reflect on the hospital executive’s inability to grasp the contingent nature of misfortune: there, but for the grace of God, she might have been the driver in the accident; there, but for the grace of God, she might have needed a heart transplant without having the means to pay for it. She’s too focused on spreadsheets to notice.

It’s a painful, even grotesque irony that Anne Heche–the actual person, not a film character–died this week in a horrific car wreck. Like the driver in “John Q,” she was driving recklessly, probably under the influence, and very likely at fault for the accident. Like the movie character, her recklessness ended up being lethal: she’s now been declared brain dead, and a medical determination is underway as to the viability of her organs for donation. Here, too–one hopes–one person’s recklessness and tragic demise may end up becoming another’s salvation.

Anne Heche July 14, 2014 (cropped).jpg

I can’t remember the last time I encountered a public event in which life so closely imitated art, and in so weirdly tragic a fashion. It stands out for me, I suppose, for idiosyncratically personal reasons. My best friend, a trauma surgeon, got himself (and others) killed in a traffic accident caused by his addiction to reckless driving. By some strange irony, his mother was killed two decades later in an equally horrific accident caused by a reckless driver. Both accidents bore an eerie similarity, in purely physical terms, to the one depicted in the film. My friend was driving a BMW, and lost control of it in much the way that the driver did in the film. His mother was hit by a Mack truck. The latter event happened a few months after I “did” my first organ recovery while working in a hospital OR, itself (if I recall) the result of a traffic accident. Unlike most surgical cases (which involve music and banter), the organ procurement was done in “dead” silence–a sobering event even by hospital OR standards, and one not easily forgotten. All in all, just a strange set of coincidences.

“John Q” was not one of Anne Heche’s major performances; it’s not even one of the films typically mentioned in her filmography. But somehow, for better or worse, it’s the film that her name will always reflexively call to mind for me. A meandering set of thoughts, I realize, on a brutely random event, but one I find caught in my mind with nowhere to go. No more to say than that, really. RIP.

3 thoughts on “Life Imitates Art

  1. Hi Irfan, I really liked your post on the film ‘John Q’. Would you have any interest in authoring a 1-3k word post for the American Philosophical Association’s new philosophy of film blog? I;’m teh blog series editor. If so, please drop me a message at

    Liked by 1 person

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