First Do No Harm

Watch First Do No Harm

  • PG-13
  • 1997
  • 1 hr 34 min
  • 6.7  (2,008)

First, Do No Harm is a 1997 film starring Meryl Streep, Fred Ward, and Seth Adkins. The movie, directed by Jim Abrahams, is inspired by the true life story of a family dealing with a severe form of epilepsy. The story focuses on Lori Reimuller (Meryl Streep) and her husband Dave (Fred Ward), who live in South Carolina with their three children. Lori and Dave’s middle child, Robbie (Seth Adkins), has been diagnosed with epilepsy since the age of five. His seizures are frequent and intense, affecting his daily life, and Lori has dedicated herself to finding the right medication to manage Robbie's condition.

Lori is frustrated with the limited options offered by doctors, who seem more interested in treating his seizures with medication than finding a cure for the root cause of epilepsy. She researches alternative treatments and diets, which makes her goal of curing Robbie seem more reachable. She eventually discovers a promising treatment from a doctor in California, who describes the surgery as partly successful, though the side effects seem to be negligible.

Desperate to help her son, Lori and her family decide to travel to California for the procedure. However, things do not go as expected, and Robbie has a severe reaction to the operation that leaves him partially paralyzed. Worse still, after consulting with another doctor, Lori discovers that the original neurologist missed the fact that Robbie could have a rare condition that made him ineligible for the surgery. Lori sues the neurologist for malpractice, but none of the lawyers are willing to take up the case.

The rest of the plot revolves around Lori's attempts to come to terms with the ruined state of her son's health and the guilt she feels for putting him through the unsuccessful procedure. She struggles with balancing her love of being a mother with her parental instincts of wanting to cure Robbie's suffering with risky medical procedures. As she learns more about epilepsy, she develops a strong disbelief in conventional medicine, which she comes to view as only profit-driven.

The story of First, Do No Harm grips viewers, taking them through the journey of a family coping with a medical condition that, at the time, doctors did not well understand. The film highlights the importance of trusting medical experts while raising concerns about maintaining critical thinking and pursuing alternative paths.

The actors in the film do an excellent job in their respective roles, portraying the emotional intricacies of each character. Seth Adkins is especially impressive as Robbie, whose frustrations, sorrow and a sometimes quiet resignation are excellently captured by the young actor. Meryl Streep certainly is the standout performer, her portrayal of Lori delivering a dramatic and emotional depth to an already heart-tugging story line. Her struggle as a mother to do what's right for her child is haunting and powerful, and it's hard not to feel emotionally attached to her dilemma.

Also noteworthy is the work done by Jim Abrahams, who co-wrote and directed the film, which draws attention to the human story behind medical practice. His expert direction throughout the film's action, with tension and concern nicely spaced with anticipation and relief, was genuinely impressive.

Finally, there's the expert handling of the medical considerations that First, Do No Harm grapples with. Instead of treating epilepsy as simply a mysterious illness, Jim Abrahams tries to show his audiences that while the medical profession is not infallible, nor is it entirely at fault for a condition that is still widely misunderstood. The film's message regarding the importance of seeking expert care and parental patience and understanding unite to form a compassionate and insightful exploration of an often overlooked issue.

Despite its unfortunate real-life inspiration, First, Do No Harm manages to be a thoughtful character study about the limits of medical knowledge and the lengths to which loving parents will go to help their child. It is not a typical drama, and its intense, emotional moments will move viewers to tears.

First Do No Harm is a 1997 drama with a runtime of 1 hour and 34 minutes. It has received mostly positive reviews from critics and viewers, who have given it an IMDb score of 6.7.

First Do No Harm
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  • Release Date
  • MPAA Rating
  • Runtime
    1 hr 34 min
  • IMDB Rating
    6.7  (2,008)