Saturday, April 21 , 2018, 2:10 pm | Fair 68º


Cinema in Focus: ‘My Sister’s Keeper’

The emotional film explores a family's pain and struggle over trying to keep a dying daughter alive

3 Stars — Thought-provoking

Nick Cassavete’s latest drama, My Sister’s Keeper, pulls out all the emotional stops in its exploration of a family’s pain in having to face the loss of a beautiful daughter to cancer. On the surface, the story is about an apparently selfish younger sister, Anna (Abigail Breslin), who seems to be indifferent to the plight of her dying sibling, Kate (Sofia Vassilieva). However, the true nature of the story goes to a deeper pain: How does a parent let go of a child they love with all of their heart and soul?

Kate has been sick most of her young life and on many occasions required blood transfusions, bone marrow transplants and other livesaving remedies. The perfect donor match for Kate is her younger sister, Anna, who was conceived to ensure Kate would have someone who could “save” her biologically. Both sisters love each other, but the price that Anna has had to pay to keep her sister alive has taken its emotional toll.

The driving force in the family is Kate and Anna’s mother, Sara (Cameron Diaz), who has given up her law practice to spend her life making sure Kate is getting the best care possible to survive. Supporting Sara is her husband, Brian (Jason Patric), and their young son, Jesse (Evan Ellingson). Sara is the tireless worker who believes that with willpower and a fierce determination she can keep her daughter alive.

Much of the story centers on the choice Anna makes to seek to be emancipated from her parents so they can’t force her to give up a kidney to her sister when Kate’s kidney begins to fail. In an emotional and legal tug-of-war, Anna seeks the representation of a celebrity lawyer and ends up in court defending herself against her mother. As Sara uses her legal training to require one daughter to sacrifice her own health to keep another daughter alive, this dramatic set of circumstances masks the true nature of the battle: Kate and Anna want to persuade their mother to let go of her attempts to control life and death, and to face the reality that Kate is going to die.

Can Sara cope with the realization that she can’t stop the loss of someone as precious as her daughter? To face this fact and to let her daughter go is too painful to even contemplate. Sara and her family don’t appear to have any spiritual guidance in facing death, and the heaviness of the story is compounded by a lack of any transcendent hope.

Facing the loss of a child is one of the most painful experiences a parent can face. In many ways, life is neither perfect nor fair. Our best hope for being at peace with the tragedies and trials that interject themselves into our lives is to recognize that the love of God can heal every relationship, even if that relationship transcends this earthly plain.


» The decision to lay down one’s own life for the sake of another requires the freedom to decide whether to make such a sacrifice. In the film, Anna has no choice and must turn to the protection of the legal system. If you were Anna, what would you do?

» A secondary concern of this film is the morality of cloning or birthing some humans to be used to harvest their organs for other humans. Do you believe such actions are moral? On what do you base your opinion?

» The strength of denial has been shown to be overwhelming. Have you ever experienced a moment in which you were unable to face something horrendous? Who helped you face and accept the truth?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church on the Mesa. For more reviews, visit

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