Diabetes in movies: the best… and the worst!

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Type 1 diabetes is not often addressed in movies. And when it is, it is mainly to provide a dramatic line… Not always very convincing and particularly annoying for people who live with Type 1 diabetes and deal with stereotypes and misconceptions everyday. Entertainment, okay, but is it at the cost of misinformation? 

Con Air: “Insulin quick! He’s hypo…”

In this Simon West film released in 1997, the hero played by the actor Nicolas Cage returns home in a prison plane after 8 years of incarceration. The plane is hijacked while an inmate, a friend of the hero, shouts: “I’m diabetic, if I don’t get my shot within two hours, you can send flowers to my mother” …This is already a little confusing!

In addition to having to save his own skin, Nicolas Cage spends almost the entire film looking for an insulin syringe, apparently essential to save his friend… from hypoglycemia

In one scene, the latter has a seizure, closer to epilepsy than hypoglycemia, but immediately recovers after the insulin injection, found miraculously just in time. 

Panic Room: blood glucose drops, tension rises…

Panic Room is a David Fincher movie released in 2002, starring Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart. A mother and her teenage daughter, who suffers from insulin-dependent diabetes, are at home when a burglary begins. They lock themselves in a “panic room”, a room impossible to open from the outside, to hide from the thieves.

Shortly after entering the panic room (around 1:30 am), Kristen Stewart feels the onset of hypoglycemia. And this is interesting: either the production wants to highlight the difficulty of managing insulin for “fatty and sweet” meals (her most recent meal, swallowed at the insistence of her mother, being a pizza accompanied by a can of soda), or, more likely, she goes into hypoglycemia due to the stress of being hunted in her own home. 

Diabetes thus serves as a (major) storyline throughout the movie, because mom must absolutely, at a risk to herself, get out of the panic room to retrieve the glucagon

Steel Magnolias: family complications

spoiler alert! 

In this 1989 drama, the heroine, played by Julia Roberts, lives with Type 1 diabetes and according to the plot, must avoid becoming pregnant. Simple… and scary! She chooses to have a child against the advice of her mother and doctors. Childbirth occurs without a hitch, but she eventually dies of kidney complications aggravated by her pregnancy.

To write this film, screenwriter Robert Harling drew on the life of his sister, Susan Harling Robinson, who died in 1985 of complications from Type 1 diabetes. 

Memento: diabetes in parallel

Memento is a movie directed by Christopher Nolan, released in 2000. The hero, played by Guy Pearce, is a former insurance inspector who has lost his memory. 

In parallel to the main story, it tells the story of a client of his insurance company who has also lost his memory. His wife, who suffers from insulin-dependent diabetes, decides to test her husband to determine whether he is faking his amnesia. By setting her watch back every 20 minutes (to return to the time of injection), she is given several doses of insulin in a row, resulting in a coma. In this movie, the subject of diabetes is barely touched on, but with subtlety and without factual errors. Rare. 

Watch list: A non-exhaustive list of movies addressing diabetes (both type 1 and 2): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_films_featuring_diabetes

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