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Movie Review: Richard Gere as “Norman”

When Central New York native Richard Gere appears in a new movie, it’s reason enough to cause excitement. But those with life-threatening food allergies will be particularly pleased to see that epinephrine plays a major part in the plot. Our founder, Jon Terry, gives us a preview of the film, without giving away the dramatic ending!

Movie Review: Richard Gere as “Norman

By Jon Terry
June 16th, 2017

When I founded the Allergy Advocacy Association seven years ago, I knew I would have to open myself up to any number of new experiences. Why did I decide to do this? Because I was determined to do whatever it takes to raise awareness of the dangers of anaphylaxis. Before January 2011, Web sites, newsletters, power point presentations, public events, and allergy conferences never entered my mind. To become an effective public advocate I would have to talk with many different kinds of people, develop better interpersonal skills, travel to new places, improve my IT network, etc. I think that a good public advocate must be articulate, polite, a good listener, patient, open-minded, and persistent. And I would like to think that I have learned how to do at least some of these new things well.

With this issue of our association’s e-newsletter, I find myself in another new role: film critics. Say what??

Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer is a 2016 American-Israeli political drama film directed and written by Joseph Cedar. The film stars Richard Gere and Lior Ashkenazi. According to Wikipedia the premise of this movie is that Norman Oppenheimer's life dramatically changes after the young politician he befriended becomes Prime Minister of Israel.

NORMAN” features an interesting and well-written story, talented actors, a skilled director, and a big Hollywood star. Power politics, high finance, influence peddling, hustling, schmoozing, stalking, people-pleasing and NYC-style kvetching all get significant screen time.

“Norman, who strides through Midtown in a tweed cap and a camel coat, connected to the world through the earbuds of his iPhone, is an utterly plausible denizen of a city on the move,” says A. O. Scott in his New York Times review. “You will encounter his ilk — losers, strivers, hucksters and dreamers — in the novels of Saul Bellow and the stories of Franz Kafka and Isaac Bashevis Singer. Also in the films of Mel Brooks and the Coen Brothers.”

Billed as a thriller, it seems more like an entertaining satire with elements of farce rather than a thought-provoking drama to yours truly. So why take the time to talk about it in a newsletter from the Allergy Advocacy Association?

Because the main character, Norman Oppenheimer, has a peanut allergy. He eyes dangerous treats fretfully and carries an epinephrine auto-injector (EAI) device constantly, most likely the Epi-PenTM. And this movie uses Norman’s affliction as a crucial plot device that impacts its conclusion in a very big way. (No way am I gonna give away the ending!)

What the heck is a plot device, anyway? Consider the concept of Chekhov’s gun.

Chekhov's gun is a dramatic principle that states that every element in a story must be necessary, and irrelevant elements should be removed; elements should not appear to make "false promises" by never coming into play. The statement is recorded in letters by playwright Anton Chekhov several times, with some variation:

"Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there."

For better or worse food allergy has become so accepted in everyday life that the audience can quickly draw the necessary conclusions; no overtly detailed explanation must be provided. If Norman eats any peanuts, he might end up dead. You might say that Norman’s EAI device is the metaphorical rifle hanging on the wall. Once the audience knows Norman is at risk for anaphylaxis due to his peanut allergy, we know that he is really going to need his life-saving medication at the climax of this movie.

The increasing number of individuals at risk for anaphylaxis is an established fact. The American College of Allergy Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) estimates 500 to 1,000 deaths per year in the US from anaphylaxis. Despite decades of scientific research costing millions of dollars, causes and solutions are still largely unknown.

What conclusions can be drawn from “NORMAN” and its depiction of the risks of nut allergy? Is this movie an example of public apathy, indifference or even fatalism? Or is it an illustration of how public awareness has been increased and that advocacy efforts are finally paying off? I think it may be a little bit of both.

This movie shows that a continuing program of awareness, alertness and action is crucial to saving lives. For every guy like Norman who is alert to the dangers of anaphylaxis, there are countless others who have no idea they are at risk or fail to take their situation seriously. Local advocacy groups like mine and others at the national level—the Allergy and Asthma Network, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, Food Allergy Research and Education, Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Connection Team—all need your support. We need more money to raise awareness and improve access to epinephrine. And we need your active participation to carry out our program of action in New York State and all across America.

I hope you will go see “NORMAN” when you get the chance. And please check out our Web site, too! It’s all about life — NOT life-style!  

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