Movie Review: “Cake” Starring Jennifer Aniston As a Patient Living with Chronic Pain

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This past weekend, I was finally able to see the movie, Cake, that’s been garnering all the buzz. I will share my thoughts on the movie … and for those of you who are new to my blog, please remember that I’m sharing this from the perspective of someone with (juvenile) rheumatoid arthritis and sjogrens syndrome, lupus, mixed connective tissue disease, celiac, and chiari, and not as a person who solely lives with severe chronic pain.

1. I thought that Jennifer Aniston did an amazing job. I wish that she would have gotten her Oscar nomination. Her physical transformation was impressive, and I felt that she embodied the character. Her movements, struggles, mannerisms, and the noises she occasionally made were very realistic and hit home for me as a person who lives with chronic pain.

2. I do not think that the movie painted chronic pain patients in a very positive light. In fact, I do not think it helped with the whole “drug-seeking stigma” at all. That said, that’s okay, in my opinion, because I don’t think that it needed to. It was portraying the picture of one woman’s journey, and hers was a dark struggle that was riddled with grief, mourning, loss, depression, and, yes, a great dependency on pharmaceutical drugs, particularly, narcotics. For many people living with chronic pain, this is a reality.

3. She did not have arthritis. Let me be clear — they didn’t specify whether or not she had developed osteoarthritis as a result of her injury, but to clarify, her chronic pain was the result of an accident and the resulting injuries: not from, say, rheumatoid arthritis. I suspect there was some confusion about this fact, since the Arthritis Foundation promoted the film, and, in some interviews, Jennifer Aniston spoke of her “disease.” I think her diseases being referenced were painkiller addiction, depression, and chronic pain. But, she did not have a chronic illness to speak of, in case there was confusion on this matter.

4. My mom, who thank God luckily does not live with day-to-day chronic pain, thought it to be a bit boring and so did some reviews I’d read. I didn’t think it was too boring, in fact, I thought the RA movie Words and Pictures was far more boring, in my personal opinion. My point, however, is that, perhaps someone who couldn’t relate to the character as much would find it to be less interesting than someone who could relate on a more personal level.

I’d probably give it 3.5 out of 5 stars overall, but, as for Jennifer Aniston’s portrayal itself, I’d give her a higher rating.

That said, I have to say something that I’ve thought about recently: chronic pain and chronic illness, though probably equally trying and difficult, are equally trying and difficult in different ways. Chronic pain and chronic illness can — and often do —  coexist within one person, but they are not one in the same. I’m not saying that it’s harder to live with a systemic chronic illness per se, but, just that it’s more than just pain.

Today is Rheumatoid Awareness Day so there’s no better time than to make that clear: these illnesses are more than chronic pain. It’s more than achy joints or being sore. Jennifer Aniston portrayed chronic pain pretty well in the movie Cake. But for some of us, the pain isn’t the hardest part of these conditions.

In fact, for me personally, I can say that her character in Cake definitely seemed to have more pain than I do on a daily basis. How bad her pain was, I don’t know and can only speculate. But, in terms of sickness, I probably have it worse than this fictional woman on-screen. That presents different hurdles. In terms of disability, yeah, some days, I was at her character’s level. Other days, I’m pretty average and “normal.” But I don’t think that her character had to deal with the intangible parts of chronic illness:  the fear of organ involvement, the fear of the pain and limitation progressively getting worse, the skin rashes and discomfort, the biologic medications that are actually altering your cell activity, the fact of being immune-compromised, the worries about passing your conditions along to your children, the coexisting conditions that can sprout up months or years after your initial diagnosis, the fact that most people don’t understand what your conditions even are or what they mean, the inability to explain why some days you are fine and some days you’re bedridden, the increased risk for cancer and cardiovascular disease, and so on.

Again, I’m not “ranking” or “comparing” or “competing.” I”m simply stating that there are different hurdles presented when it comes to chronic pain versus chronic illness, and the “illness” component wasn’t captured in the Cake film, because it wasn’t meant to be.

Most of us with rheumatic diseases live with both chronic pain and chronic illness; Jennifer Aniston’s character did not. BUT, that said, she dealt with unspeakable tragedies and loss that many of us haven’t faced, and that proves my point that all of our unique journeys are different, and that we all have problems and our own cross to bear.

I recommend this movie, whether you see it at the movies or rent it at home when it’s out. And to Jennifer Aniston, thank you!

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