“When I was a kid, my mother told me that I was a little piece of blue sky that came into this world because she and dad loved me so much. It was only later that I realized that that wasn’t exactly true.” With these intriguing words begins director Nick Cassavetes’ heart wrenchingly beautiful movie My Sister’s Keeper.
Released in 2009, My Sister’s Keeper is based on the book of the same name by author Jodi Picoult. The movie begins with Anna Fitzgerald (played by Abigail Breslin) introducing the viewer to her family and her life. Her sister Kate (played by Sofia Vassilieva) was diagnosed with leukaemia at a very young age. Her parents Sara and Brian (Cameron Diaz and Jason Patric) used Pre-Implantation Genetic Diagnosis to design a biologically matching baby to save Kate’s life. In this way, Anna came into the world and saved her sister’s life once. When she is fifteen, Kate’s kidneys fail and Anna knows that her mother will force her to donate one of her own to Kate—Sara’s one goal and obsession is keeping Kate alive. However, Anna does not want to do so even though she knows Kate will die without her donation. So, Anna visits Campbell (Alec Baldwin), a prominent lawyer, in his office and engages his help in her lawsuit against her parents demanding medical emancipation and the rights to her own body. Anna later emphatically explains to her family that with only one kidney, she will have to be careful for the rest of her life—she will not be able to play sports, cheerlead, or have a child.
When Sara entreats her to remember what’s important, meaning Kate’s life, Anna stands up and yells “I’m important too, Mom! I’m important too!” making it clear that she refuses to save her sister’s life once more. The contention and strain among the family, particularly between Anna and Sara, is evident. Moreover, it is made clear that focusing on Kate alone has led Sara to lose focus on the rest of her family and life. Realizing that Anna will not back down, Sara, having been a lawyer before Kate’s diagnosis, decides to represent herself in court.
Through flashbacks the movie goes on to depict the warm, loving relationship between Kate and Anna, further confusing the viewer as to why Anna would refuse to save her sister’s life. At the penultimate court scene, it is revealed why Anna chose to do so, as well as why Campbell agreed to take up the case even though Anna could not pay him fully. Ultimately, the family is forced to move on after the verdict is announced. They heal their wounds, re-establish their loving relationships, and regain control of their lives. Kate teaches her family to love living because nobody knows when and if happiness will end and suffering will begin.
There are a few parts in this movie that do distract the viewer from the central story and even confuse the viewer a little bit. In between dramatic legal scenes and showdowns, Kate asks to go to the beach. Although overprotective Sara protests this, Brian gets permission from Kate’s doctors and the family visits the beach together, ending up having a good time. These light hearted scenes feel a bit odd as the conflict between Anna and Sara seems to be shoved aside for a few not completely relevant scenes. With Edwina Hayes’ beautiful song Feels Like Home playing in the background, this scene is, however, extremely touching.
The movie is about the difficult choices that people have to make in life and how there isn’t always a clear distinction between right and wrong. Sara and Brian are faced with the decision of whether to have a designer baby and Anna is forced to decide whether or not she wants to save Kate’s life.
Sara was forced to unconsciously choose between her children, a choice no mother should be forced to make.
The movie is also about being able to let go and knowing when to do so. In the end, Kate’s family is forced to let go even though they never stopped fighting against doing so. Sara especially couldn’t bear to let go of her daughter, yet finally she came to an understanding that letting go is sometimes better than fighting to hang on. She is forced to accept a daughter’s death.
With absolutely superb acting, especially by Sofia Vassilieva, this movie is poignantly powerful and is indeed a worthwhile watch. This is a movie of heroes, of the heroes that live quietly inside ordinary people as they live their quiet lives. This is a movie of real struggle and real pain, and above all, one of real life.