In reviewing “My Sister’s Keeper,” a film about a girl genetically engineered to provide spare parts for her leukemia-ravaged older sister, I expected I would focus on the swirling questions of medical ethics presented by the movie’s plot or even the film’s sharply pointed question, “How far would you go to save someone you love?”

But I can’t.

Not when the silver screen is so dreadfully dripping with nihilism, when a movie works so hard to convince audiences there is no hope, no point, no purpose in life – nor death, for that matter.

This film’s dark journey into a worldview devoid of any divine purpose begins with the somber thoughts of 11-year-old Anna Fitzgerald (played by Abigail Breslin), the younger sister who was born and bred to keep older sis, Kate, alive:

“Most babies are accidents,” Anna declares, “products of drunken evenings and lack of birth control.”

Thank you Anna, for those sophomoric, yet morally and spiritually bankrupt notions.

It may be simply the natural consequence of our overly rational, scientific and secular culture that people would see babies as just a biological byproduct of happenstance bodily fluids, but I disagree. I see the image of God in those tiny fingers and toes; I see a miracle – the very idea of which this film subtly sneers at by calling Kate “a miracle child,” when the audience has been made so painfully aware that the only reason for Kate’s continued existence is the careless harvest of body parts from her younger sister.

Nope. No miracles allowed in “My Sister’s Keeper,” because then people might just look up from this pointless life of ours and see God.

But wait. It gets worse.

To be fair, the film is bursting with meaningful and tear-jerking lines, honest characters and good acting.

When Kate says, “I don’t mind my disease killing me, but it’s killing my family too,” then confesses how her life has stolen life from each member of her family, the writing is absolutely amazing. I choke up even now reviewing the lines that I won’t quote here, because it wouldn’t be fair to take the pure poetry of it out of context.

There are also powerful moral and ethical issues explored in the film, highlighted by the trial where Anna sues her parents to have “the right to her own body” back:

“The doctors all said nothing was their fault and it was very complex,” Anna says. “All in all, they’re like me: They’re all confused.”

Here Anna gets it right. The doctors are confused, as are all the characters – and indeed, all of society – when we say there is no divine designer, therefore no divine purpose, therefore no divine value in human life.

The nihilistic overtones of “My Sister’s Keeper” suffocate hope from the beginning of the film to the end, beyond just Anna’s opening lines about accidental babies:

  • Such as when Kate’s older brother roams the streets alone to the refrain of a song repeating, “Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens”
  • Such as when Kate and Anna discuss what happens after death: “Where do you go? I don’t know. But who knows?”
  • Or such as the nearly ending lines after a character (I won’t say who) dies: “I wish I could tell you some good came out or that her life had some meaning … but she’s just gone. … Death is just death. Nobody understands it.”

The movie then concludes with one of the most disingenuous, contrived and ultimately failing attempts at a redemptive ending I’ve ever seen on film. Suffice it to say, everybody gets better and goes back to the life they could have had as if Kate never got sick. Because, I guess, in the end, Kate’s life really had no meaning. It’s just kind of a drain on everybody around her.

Two of the people seated near me in the theater, as the credits rolled, summed up well the painful contradiction between this film’s message of pointlessness and our nearly universal desire to find purpose in life:

“What the heck was that?” asked one teenage girl, whose evaluation was perhaps more insightful than she realized.

“I told you it was sad,” said an elderly woman on the aisle. Then her friend changed the subject in the uncomfortable silence, and both went on, trying to forget what they had just witnessed on the screen.

But perhaps it shouldn’t be forgotten. “My Sister’s Keeper” is a haunting reminder that for those who live in the belief that we are alone – that there is no God, no purpose, or, “Hey, who knows” – life … is lonely.

“I told you it was sad,” she said.

Content advisory

  • “My Sister’s Keeper” attempts to be true to the suffering of an advanced leukemia patient, including scenes of blood and bruising, vomit and even vomiting blood. It is portrayed in a sympathetic manner, not for gore, but the images are very memorable.
  • The film contains a few bursts of profanity, even strong profanity, but in moments when audiences would expect such words from nearly any characters suffering the circumstances.
  • The movie contains a prolonged kissing scene between teenagers and a scene of implied sex – with no audio or visual graphic depiction – including partial nudity that is veiled somewhat by lighting.
  • Kate’s attractive aunt is dressed to impress throughout the film, but in a beach scene, she plays in the surf, revealing a lot of leg and a flash of bare behind.

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