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Film / Patch Adams

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Laughter truly is the best medicine.

Patch Adams (1998) is a Very Loosely Based on a True Story film directed by Tom Shadyac and starring Robin Williams as Hunter "Patch" Adams, a medical student who wants to treat people, not just diseases. To do this, he bucks authority, dresses up as a clown, and acts silly and (on occasion) unprofessionally. Also features Philip Seymour Hoffman in a smaller role as Patch's roommate.

The movie centres largely around Adams's clashing with the old guard of medicine over how to treat patients, specifically their cold and detached bedside manner. Patch argues they need to be more involved with the patients and not treat them as another statistic, whilst his superiors point out that getting emotionally involved helps neither doctor nor patient.

Notably, the film received a fair bit of criticism from the real Dr. Adams, among many, over the film's representation of his views and philosophies. He believed it simplified all his work into "laughter is the best medicine." Furthermore it fabricates entire events, such as making his best friend into a woman to create a love interest, and having Patch commit several felonies which, naturally, his real life counterpart never did. To make matters worse, the money promised to Adams out of the film's profits by the studio were never paid to him—this massively delayed construction of the hospital he wished to build.


This film contains examples of:

  • Age Lift: While the real Hunter Adams went to medical school at the usual age, in the film he doesn't start until much later in his life.
  • Alone with the Psycho:
    • In the beginning of the film, Patch is forced to room with a man who goes apeshit on a regular basis in reaction to imaginary squirrels on the ground. Patch is, to say the least, uncomfortable with the arrangement, but helping his roommate "fight off" the squirrels long enough to reach the restroom inspires him to devote his life to helping people.
    • Carin's visit to Larry Silver's house. It doesn't end well for either of them.
  • Artistic License – Biology: During his Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter! moment, Patch tells Truman that man is the only animal who kills its own kind. The praying mantisnote , black widow spidernote , betta fish, chimpanzee, dolphin, lion, rabbit, deer, and the vast majority of the animal kingdom would all like a word with you, Mr. Adams. As pointed out in the Ape Shall Never Kill Ape page, humans are far from unique among animals at killing their own kind. They are, however, unique in being the only ones who even sometimes feel bad about it, at least as far as we know.
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  • Award-Bait Song: "Where My Heart Will Take Me" (aka "Faith of the Heart") by Rod Stewart, which infamously became the Real Song Theme Tune of Star Trek: Enterprise.
  • Black-and-White Morality: The villain seems to have no motivation other than to enforce cruel traditions, while the charming rebel is always portrayed in good light.
  • Broken Aesop: The movie makes the cases that doctors should care for their patients emotionally as well as physically, but midway through the movie getting too close to a patient causes Carin to be killed. This is made worse because Patch treats his deadly mistake as merely something to overcome, rather than learning from it to evolve his craft.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Patch does numerous "funny" things at the hospital, annoying Dean Walcott, but Patch's grades are among the highest in the class. Which is even stranger considering that he never studies or is shown on-camera utilizing medical knowledge.
  • Character Title: Dr. Hunter "Patch" Adams.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Patch, because certainly a doctor that dresses like a clown is a weirdo.
  • Collateral Angst: Carin was Patch's love interest, and then is killed in a way that serves to pile angst onto Patch and make him question his decisions.
  • Comedy as a Weapon: Patch believes in helping patients through humour and laughter.
  • Dean Bitterman: Dean Walcott twice attempts to have Patch dismissed from the school despite his high grades, believing his methods demean the doctor-patient relationship and undermine the dignity of the medical profession.
  • Driven to Suicide: Patch's attempted suicide is what kickstarts the story. He nearly attempts it again later on.
  • Dr. Jerk: Every single one of the doctors, except Patch Adams, is cold and refers to patients by their room number or disease and even in one scene discuss amputating a patient's leg in a very casual way while the poor patient is lying right next to them.
  • Dude, Not Funny!: That stunt Patch pulls to the visiting gynecologists where he places a pair of giant inflatable legs by the college's door so the entrance resembles a giant vagina comes off as not funny, just Sick and Wrong to them.
  • Fan Disservice: Patch moons the audience at his graduation.
  • Gender Flip: The person Carin is based on was a man in real life.
  • Humans Are Bastards: Patch notes after Carin's murder that humans are the only species that actively hunts and kills its own species (which is not true).
  • Idiot Ball: Carin answers the phone and hears an obviously insane man who wants "somebody to talk to." So naturally, she goes to his house alone. It doesn't go well.
  • Informed Attribute: Patch's medical knowledge. The audience never sees him study or actually tend to patients, but is just told his grades are among the highest in his class, and when challenged by his roommate to explain how that is when he doesn't study as much as everyone else, Patch just gives him a "The Reason You Suck" Speech instead. This was one of the criticisms levied by the real Adams.
  • In Your Nature to Destroy Yourselves: See Humans Are Bastards above.
  • Jerkass: Patch is this in the eyes of the Dean and initially to Carin. Some of his antics, such as the gynecologist setup, could be construed more as this than the opposite intention of being humorous.
  • Karma Houdini: Let's just say Patch gets away with a lot of stuff he shouldn't. Namely, practicing medicine without a license and stealing from a hospital.
  • Koan: "If you focus on the problem, you can't see the solution!"
  • Lampshade Hanging: Patch's Informed Attribute about his medical knowledge is pointed out by his roommate, who says "I know what you study, or should I say don't study."
  • The Lancer: Patch's friend and fellow student Truman buys in to his ideas and becomes his sidekick at his pseudo-clinic ranch.
  • Murder-Suicide: After getting Carin to come to his house alone, Larry Silver shoots her and then turns the gun on himself.
  • Rape as Backstory: Carin was apparently molested as a child.
  • Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter!: After Carin's death, Patch returns to the cliff overlooking his land, rails at God's apparent apathy towards human suffering and lack of compassion for each other, and considers jumping off the edge before spotting a butterfly, recalling Carin's story about how caterpillars get a second chance.
  • Straw Feminist: Carin is obviously insecure about being a woman in a male-dominated profession, and refuses Patch's (platonic!) advances out of fear of showing weakness, and contempt for his carefree attitude.
  • Strawman Political: The social issue Patch is facing was not a revolutionary idea (the term "bedside manner" long predates him entering medical school), but almost all of the people opposing him act as though being apathetic Dr Jerks is the supreme goal of medicine.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Carin brings their own death on their own person, via being stupid enough to drive all the way to the house of a patient that is obviously unstable, without bothering to call the police or tell anyone to come with her as support. Naturally, they get shot to death for the trouble.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Lots of changes were made. Most notably, the romantic love interest Carin was really a male friend of Patch Adams who was killed under similar circumstances, though earlier than the film depicts.