Based on Noah Gordon’s bestseller The Physician (1986), German director Philipp Stölzl’s movie turns out to be a stunning and capturing tale of a young healer moving not only between continents but different religions and cultures in the 11th century. The historical movie is a brilliant example of stage setting, fantastic costumes and artistic computer animation, topped only by the excellent acting skills of Tom Payne (as the protagonist Rob Cole), Ben Kingsley (in his role of the wise Ibn Sinna) and Stellan Skarsgard.
The storyline of “Der Medicus” is quite simple and linear, so the viewer should not expect surprising sideplots or scene cuts. However, Stölzl did not forget to imply clear political statements reflecting situations that could be replicated and placed into the late 20th and 21st centuries. If there is any historical accuracy or evidence to these statements remains a disputable mystery.
Still traumatized by his mother’s sudden and at those times inexplicable death, Rob Cole becomes an orphan but makes up his mind to follow a barber-surgeon who attracts people with his poorly developed medical skills. As a Jewish doctor restores the surgeon’s eyesight, Rob makes up his mind to cross the ocean and travel to distant lands to become a medical scholar of the wise Ibn Sinna, who lived at the Shah’s court in the Persian city of Isfahan. Rob’s ultimate goal is to fathom the reason of his mother’s death (appendicitis) by becoming a surgeon himself. Pretending to be Jewish, he sneaks into the court of Isfahan where, apparently, no Christians are allowed. When he arrives at the court, he gets involved in the power struggle and rivaling interests of the cruel, but religiously moderate Shah regime and the Islamist mullahs – a strong parallel to the political situation in Iran not so long ago. Before the final battle takes place and both the Jews and the Shah are expelled from the city, the black death haunts it and Rob almost loses his love at first sight, a beautiful Jewish girl called Rebecca.
As one could expect, the movie has a happy ending, with Cole marrying Rebecca and moving back to London where he opens one of the first medical clinics in the country.
Albeit no Hollywood classic, “Der Medicus” manages to come close to Hollywood with its overwhelming graphics, great actors and actresses and a more or less predictable storyline with strong political statements. But more than that, it certainly is a triumphant homage to Noah Gordon’s bestseller.
© Review by Stephan Haderer