1. What was Dr Sayer looking for?
During his initial job interview to
provide care for a group of patients suffering from
encephalitis lethargica, Dr Sayer
was surprised when he heard that he was hired. When
asked about his experience working with people, he described
a futile scientific endeavor that spanned several years
where he experimented in isolation with several tons of
earthworms. It was apparent to me early in this film that
Dr Sayer was a man troubled by loneliness and wrought with
an intense need to find purpose in his life. In his case,
he engaged himself in a lifelong scientific pursuit to
discover a medical scientific breakthrough. In his eyes, he
was simply looking for a medical miracle that would save the
lives of many. He would be considered a good person, a
servant of humanity, and one worthy of honor. This would
give him validation from his peers, status as a scientist,
and a feeling of great self-worth. So devoted Dr Sayer was
in his quest for validation, that he completely retreated
into the solitary world of a single man and his laboratory.
The effects of this were evident in his character;
hesitancy, reclusiveness, a lack of confidence, and a
predisposition not to engage are observed numerous times
throughout the film. His relentless, solitary quest for
purpose and validation had robbed him of the joy of
relationships, and the light of life.
2. Why do you think he was so absorbed
in his work?
I believe Dr Sayer would tell us that
he was working towards a higher purpose, holding onto and
working towards a hope that no other scientist was willing
to try. To him, these patients are alive inside, not merely
catatonic bodies. It is a noble endeavor, indeed, to take
upon oneself the responsibility for setting free and
bringing to bear the life inside his patients. He would
tell us that his work is an honorable work, his pursuits
hopeful and revolutionary. He would encourage us not to
lose faith, or give up on science. Yet having little else
to live for, the goal of making a scientific breakthrough
became his driving force and single motivation in life.
Having empty rooms to go home to drove him to find purpose
in life as a matter of making a singular accomplishment.
The risk in this, of course, is that if he fails to make his
long-sought discovery, the quest for purpose fails, and thus
Dr. Sayer has, in a sense, his very life at stake. Because
of the high stakes, he pours himself completely into his
work ever searching for the one discovery that he believes
will give him the life he’s always longed for. Yet as he
himself later discovers, the search for purpose simply
through science is a futile endeavor. It may make one a
brilliant scientist, but can still leave the heart lonely.
In many ways, I felt sad for Dr. Sayer, wishing that I
could extend a hand of friendship to him, which I believe
was something he lacked in life.