A Young Doctor’s Notebook: Birth

daniel-radcliffe-jon-hamm-a-young-doctors-notebookJon Hamm and Daniel Radcliffe in a period comedy together? I’m there. I don’t even care if it sucks.

Moscow, 1934. Jon Hamm sits smoking contemplatively behind a desk, looking out the window, and the only clue we get that this isn’t just another episode of Mad Men is the fact that he’s wearing a bow tie. Don Draper would never wear a bow tie. The camera pulls back and we see that his office is being ransacked by some Soviet soldiers. Jon picks up a notebook at his elbow and starts thumbing through it while he VOs that happiness is like good health: you don’t notice it until it’s gone. I’m not sure I agree with that. I sure realize when I’m happy. He goes on to say that he was happy back in 1917, when he was a recent med school graduate being sent to some very remote outpost to run the local hospital.

And now we’re back in 1917 as well, watching Daniel freeze his ass off in a carriage and try to make small talk with the driver. He’s also amazed to find the track he’s on is actually a road. The driver dumps him off about a mile from the hospital, in the snow, and Daniel sadly looks at his destination, bidding farewell to the glories of Moscow: the Bolshoi, the shop windows. Driver tosses down the young man’s trunk and he heads in the direction of the hospital.

He finally makes it inside, and I will say, it’s pretty funny to watch Daniel Radcliffe struggle with this trunk that’s almost exactly as big as he is. He does a fairly good job of making that entertaining. The first person he spots is a fellow doctor, who’s in the process of removing someone’s tooth. Other Doc calls for someone named Anna, who bustles over and tells Daniel that the doctor’s not there, but he’s expected soon. Teeth chattering, he explains that he’s the doctor, and she hilariously stares at him while he repeats that he really, really is the doctor. Ha! She explains that she was thrown because their previous doctor, Leopold Leopoldivich, had a beard. She gestures grandly to the man’s portrait in the hall, and indeed, he does have a beard. You could hide small animals in that thing. Daniel explains that he just shaved last week, and then amends that to yesterday when he realizes how stupid that sounds. She criticizes his coat and other doc finishes up and greets Daniel really enthusiastically. Almost creepily so. He tells Daniel that he’ll have to tell him everything about Moscow.

Anna then introduces their midwife, Pelageya. Anna warns him not to let her distract him and, as soon as he spots her, he reassures her that won’t be a problem. Damn, that woman’s so bleak looking I’d be scared to have her reassuring me while I was giving birth. She sneers that Daniel looks like a student and he says he was, until recently, but he graduated top of the class with unprecedented honours, so he’s totally ready for all this. They are unimpressed. Anna offers a tour and Daniel agrees, once again dragging the trunk.

He asks Anna how many patients the place holds, guessing 40 at the most, and she grandly tells him that Leopold would get 50 in regularly. He moves on and admires the instruments, which, of course, were all there because Leopold Leopoldovich brought them all together. The way she says the man’s name you half expect there to be some sort of orchestral fanfare. She moves away, and suddenly Jon Hamm’s there, happily reminiscing about all the creepy instruments. Apparently, one of them is specifically for pulling out an eye. Nice! Jon gives Daniel some tips about the hot tap and the operating lamp, which he kept hitting his head on. “I saw a lot of horror and tragedy in here,” Jon reminisces. “Happy days.” Daniel’s WTF look in response to that is priceless.

Anna shows him the dispensary—the sweet shop, as Jon calls it—and is reluctant to hand over the key. Daniel notes that the doctor stockpiled a lot of black ointment, which gets a frigid response from Anna, who sweeps off. Other Doc asks if Daniel’s a ‘syphilis man’, so presumably that’s what black ointment is for, and Daniel awkwardly responds that he takes an interest, though, of course, not a personal one. He babbles on and Jon finally tells him to stop talking. Pel picks up the trunk he’s been dragging and carries it out.

The next stop is his rooms, where there’s yet another portrait of Leopold, who, apparently, was a painter whose favourite subject was himself. Anna talks about the magnificent library he collected and Daniel agrees that it’s impressive and he won’t have many boring evenings. Other Doc chimes in that they have plenty of fun every night. Why, just the other day he heard a really amusing anecdote. Daniel, naturally, waits to hear it, but the guy has no social graces at all and just leaves it at that. Now it’s Pel’s turn to be strange and awkward: she’s been stuffing his mattress and tells him that’s all the hay the horse can spare. Fortunately, she had to shoot the other horse. Daniel thanks her, and then clarifies that he was thanking her for the mattress, not shooting the horse. He tries the bed, which is a total piece of crap, and Anna bids him good night and tells him to brush his teeth. The girls leave, but OD remains and admires the trunk.

Some time later, Daniel is in his PJs, exhausted, while OD checks a list he made of all Daniel’s stuff. That’s really, really strange. Daniel finally tells OD (I think his name’s Feldcher) he really needs sleep and Feldcher tells him he should have said something. Since this guy clearly has no sense of basic social cues, I’m sure Daniel will in future. He finally goes, after telling Daniel they should read an atlas together sometime. Whatever. Jon reappears and recalls what an annoying person the guy was and Daniel jumps right in to agree, and then considers getting some spectacles just to look a bit older. Jon tells him he walks like an adolescent, which Daniel claims is not true. He then tries a more measured gait, which is entertainingly awful. Hamm goes on to say his voice is troublesome too, and Daniel’s voice goes up about five octaves as he protests. Jon tells him to chill, because it’s not what you look like that matters in an operating room, it’s experience.

Later, Daniel’s in bed, unable to sleep because of the howling wind. He figures that, at least, nobody will come out in such weather, and Jon says he’s probably right, unless it was something really serious and complicated. Daniel thinks that’ll be a hernia, which is the one lecture he accidentally slept through at school. He starts paging through a book and freaks out because he can’t remember one thing. Jon reminds him, and Daniel calms down and remembers his book learning. Jon then freaks him out again by bringing up some other kind of hernia, and then there’s a frantic knock on the door. It’s Pel, and she has a patient whose labour isn’t going well. Daniel’s just relieved it’s not a hernia, and he promises to come right along.

Out in the hallway, Daniel listens to the woman moaning in labour, looking scared and a little sick. He finally gets into the operating room, smacks his head on the lamp, and asks what the trouble is. A transverse lie, apparently. He tries to ask the patient some questions, but she only screams in response. He decides to have a look at things under the hood and goes to wash up while Anna and Pel look a bit alarmed. Way to use those poker faces around your patient, ladies.

At the wash basin, Jon observes that Pel’s not as ugly as he remembers. Still, he can’t believe he… and then Daniel burns himself on the tricky tap. Daniel suggests running back to his room to check out a textbook and Jon gives him a ‘are you effing kidding me?’ look. Daniel sucks it up and goes to put on the gown Pel’s holding for him. She ties him in and tells him it belonged to Leopold. She looks him up and down and says the guy was a lot taller than Daniel. Indeed, he looks like he’s wearing his dad’s pajamas. He makes do and starts the exam.

And then we’re back in his med school days, where a pregnant woman’s on her back in front of the class while the professor tells them all to get a nice clear view. Dan’s right in front, but then two taller students come in and stand right in front of him, blocking his view and ignoring him when he pleads with them to move. Heh. I do like that Daniel Radcliffe’s game for jokes about his height and youthful appearance.

Back in 1917, Daniel tries to make small talk with the patient, which doesn’t go well. He agrees that this is a transverse lie, but he clearly doesn’t know what to do next. Pel suggests a procedure in which the fetus is turned while in the womb and Daniel quickly agrees. The ladies and Feldcher bustle off to get chloroform and whatnot while Daniel lies that he’s going to get his cigarettes.

In reality, he races back to his room to look some things up. He starts frantically pulling books off the shelves and gets all upset that the one he needs has no pictures but plenty of scary notes about uterine ruptures. He throws the book in frustration and Jon picks it up and starts reading about the baby suffocating. Daniel starts to panic that he’s going to kill this woman and then her husband will come after him, and the guy’s probably built like an ox because that’s how they make ‘em in rural Russia. Daniel asks for the book back, but Jon won’t hand it over. He holds it up out of Daniel’s reach and Daniel says he won’t demean himself by jumping for it. And then he does, and here we have a tiny problem with the casting, because by the time you’re done medical school, you’re pretty much done growing, height-wise. So unless this doctor had that crazy Gattaca bone-lengthening surgery at some point, no way is it possible this young man would have shot up another six inches over the next twenty or so years.

Anyway, they tussle over the book and Jon gets hold of it and starts eating the pages so Daniel can’t get them. Daniel grabs his cigarettes and races back to the operating room, smoking. He finds Pel reassuring the patient that the doctor may look young, but he’s very good and it’s all still fresh in his mind. Daniel goes over to the sink to wash his hands again and Anna joins him. She tells him that Leopold was a great surgeon but he hated doing this procedure. He did, however, make some useful observations she’s happy to share with the young doctor. He asks her to please do so and she starts to talk.

Much, much later, Daniel staggers out, bloody hands and all, and takes a seat under one of Leopold’s portraits for a smoke. We hear a baby’s wail, and Pel and Anna join him, Pel looking kind of pissed off, for some reason. Maybe that’s just her post-birthing look. Daniel tiredly tells them they both did well in there, and Anna tells him he did ok too. His procedure was confident. She goes on to tell him Pel will take his surgical gown up for him. Daniel says that’s  not necessary, but the ladies say it is, Pel adding it makes him look even smaller. He agrees. And then Feldcher comes over to ask if anyone else thought the new mother had an unusually small amount of carpeting. Daniel staggers off to bed.

In the light of day, he gets his new, actually properly fitted surgical gown, and he happily thanks Pel. He notices a patient waiting, clutching his jaw, and asks what the problem is. Pel says it’s a bad tooth, but Feldcher will be back soon. Daniel says there’s no need to wait, because he’s a doctor and can handle it. We then get a montage of him trying every which way to get this tooth out, while the poor man protests. HE finally gets it, and the man spews up a fountain of blood. Ugh, that I did not need to see. The problem is, Daniel’s taken out the tooth and a good chunk of the man’s jawbone. Ahhhhh! He quickly tries to resurrect the problem, but his poker face is even worse than the ladies’. Anna pokes her head in and asks if he’s nearly finished and he says he is, he just needs his cigarettes again.

That night, he writes in his journal that he kept the tooth and jawbone as a reminder of the day a medical student became a doctor. How did a failed procedure make you a doctor? Because that was definitely a failure. He rereads what he’s written and decides it’s too sentimental, so he starts over again.

In 1934, Jon reads the notebook for a bit, then sets it aside and pulls the tooth and jawbone out of a jar in his desk. The soldiers are still riffling through his stuff. He tells one of them that what he has is just an old notebook, just trivial ramblings that he’d forgotten he still had. He looks incredibly sad, and as the screen goes black, he murmurs that he’s ruined.



3 thoughts on “A Young Doctor’s Notebook: Birth

  1. That other guy is not a doctor and is not named Feldcher. He is a feltsher, which is a sort of lower-level medical professional. He can pull out teeth and perform some minor procedures, and assist a doctor. Dan/Jon is the only doctor in this place.

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