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Film Studies: “The Physician” by Philipp Stölzl Essay

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Updated: Mar 22nd, 2020

Since the invention of motion pictures in the late 19th century, the film has grown to become an important tool not only for entertainment but also for educational purposes (Pattison 1492). However, the increase in the importance of film, especially in the educational realm has sparked debates about their appropriateness.

Concerns have been raised about the accuracy with which films present historical events. Many films have been termed as loose representations of the real-life occurrences they claim to reconstruct. Incidentally, the criticism leveled against the film industry is not misdirected. Many films, which are based on real-life occurrences, replace facts with fiction.

A good example is a German film The Physician (2013). Although it tells an inspiring story about a young man’s quest for knowledge against many odds, it falsely depicts Ibn Sina, who is a key figure in Asian history. This inaccurate depiction of Sina is the focus of this essay.

Synopsis of the film

The Physician is a film based on the life of a young man in 11th century England. At the tender age of nine years, he loses his mother to appendicitis. Just before his mother’s death, he discovers that he has a unique gift, which enabled him to tell that his mother’s illness was terminal. Equipped with this gift and an inner desire to understand the cause of his mother’s demise, he resolves to study medicine.

He becomes an apprentice to a physician who passes through his locality, but soon realizes that his teacher’s skills are rudimentary. He gets a rare opportunity when a Jewish physician successfully treats a serious illness that had incapacitated his teacher. After learning that the Jewish physician was trained by the great Ibn Sina, who lived and taught in Isfahan, Persia, he decides to travel there to train as a physician.

Despite many challenges, he successfully reaches his destination and disguises himself as a Jew because only then could he gain entry into Sina’s school. He learns the trade well and turns out to be an exceptional student. When the town of Isfahan becomes inhabitable due to politically instigated fighting and persecution of non-Muslims, the young man, Rob Cole returns to his homeland as a distinguished physician.

Analysis of the film

A superficial look at this movie may give the impression that it is entirely about Rob Cole. However, a deeper consideration of the events that occur therein shows that Ibn Sina is a critical character in the movie. The difficulties the Rob goes through to become Sina’s student accentuate the importance of this distinguished individual during his time.

The movie makes it apparent that only death would have stopped Rob from becoming Sina’s student, but not any other obstacle no matter how daunting. Thus, the film succeeds in presenting Ibn Sina as an important character but goes ahead to inaccurately depict some critical aspects of his life as demonstrated below.

Firstly, Sina was a grandmaster of medicine, philosophy, and several other disciplines. In fact, he can easily be described as the greatest scholar of his time. However, in the movie, he is depicted otherwise. It is true that he receives credit as a great physician, who causes Rob to travel across continents, but after learning from him for only a short time, Rob begins to influence the decisions or actions of Sina.

For example, during the Black Death as depicted in the movie, it is Rob who comes up with the idea that the oriental rat fleas were responsible for the plague. The implication of this seemingly unimportant part of the movie is that although Sina had studied medicine for longer, only a year or two of training were adequate for Rob to start seeing beyond what Sina was capable of.

This depiction is a misrepresentation of the real Sina because he was far much better than how he is represented in the movie. It is reported that he overtook his teachers at the age of 14 years (Levy 250). He was a man of great intellectual ability. Thus, it was not possible for his student to overtake him in the ability within a year or so of training at his school.

Secondly, The Physician depicts Ibn Sina as a devout student of ancient Greek philosophers. It falsely shows Sina quoting these scholars time and again during his conversations and even lectures. In real life, although Sina studied the work of Greek scholars, he was a devout Muslim, who memorized the Quran at the tender age of ten years (Levy 250). In fact, it is reported that his ability in this respect was considered a marvel by everyone (Levy 250).

Therefore, when the movie only shows him quoting Greek philosophers, it attempts to propagate the idea that all his work and achievements were influenced by these scholars.

This idea is a misrepresentation of Sina because, his greatest work, the Canon, is a collection of medical knowledge that came before his time as well as the knowledge that was developed during his time (Levy 252). The information featured in the Canon also includes knowledge from Persian scholars. Additionally, as a devout Muslim, Sina would conventionally quote the Quran, but this does not happen in the movie.

The third misrepresentation of Ibn Sina in The Physician is that he dies during a politically instigated attack on the town of Isfahan in which he resided. This part of the movie deviates from facts because Sina escaped several attempts that were aimed at capturing and possibly killing him. When his time of death came, Sina died a natural death resulting from a colic attack (Levy 252). The movie claims that he committed suicide.

This claim is a deliberate deviation from the real life of Ibn Sina because the only possible way of justifying it would be to argue that information concerning the death of the great philosopher was difficult to come by. However, such an argument is not sustainable because there is an unlimited supply of information about the life and times of Ibn Sina, which clearly explains the circumstances that surround his death.

Further, according to the movie, the town of Isfahan was attacked with the intent of capturing and killing Sina and his students because they were considered to be blaspheming against the Muslim religion. The Jews who resided in the town were also required to leave Persia.

In reality, Sina was a devout Muslim who could not blaspheme against his religion. Levy (250) observes that he changed notably after his father’s death, but since he served kings and other high ranking individuals, he could not have distanced himself from Islam. It would have been known.

Finally, according to The Physician, Sina handed his book, the Canon, and other works that he had written to Rob just before his demise. While this part of the movie is loosely based on facts, it also deviates from the real story. It is true that Sina dictated some part of his life to one of his students, with whom he was quite close. However, the work he dictated was only that which covered the first 21 years of his life.

The Canon was written later and as such, it could not have been part of the collection that was dictated by Sina to his student. According to Levy (250), Sina changed considerably in his approach to the day to day activities that occupied his time after the death of his father.

Since his father died when he was 22 years old, the work he passed on to his student was that which he had done during the years he was under his father. After his father’s death, he became more adventurous in his approach to life (Levy 250). Thus, the claim by the movie that he handed his book to his student just before his death is, like the other examples examined above, flawed.


This movie is, like most other movies that attempt to reconstruct the lives of notable historical figures, full of misrepresentations that make it unsuitable for use as a historical resource. The representation of Sina in the movie is so full of errors that it casts a shadow of doubt on the parts of the movie that seem to be accurate. Apart from the greatness of Sina, it seems that no other part of the movie is firmly based on facts.

A quick comparison between facts and this movie is adequate to tell that it incorporates too much fiction that is good for its kind. Unfortunately, it is a trend that is common across many movie industries around the world. Hence, movies are not supposed to be used as history resources without the support of written text as they can easily give misleading information.

Works Cited

Levy, Reuben. “Avicenna—his life and times.” Medical history 1.03 (1957): 249-261. Print.

Pattison, Lindsay. “Taking the Movies to School: Science, Efficiency, and the Motion Picture Project, 1929-1939.” History of Intellectual Culture 6.1 (2006): 1492-7810. Print.

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