Burden of Genius (2018)
Directed by Tjardus Greidanus, 88 mins
“When I finished medical school in 1952, the textbooks were full of diseases, the causes of which were not known. So I had a dream list: I wanted to know the cause and find the cure for one disease. And I knew it was dangerous. If you do not make it work, you’re ruined. And there’s a kind of ruination that goes well beyond public ruin. It’s a destruction from inside.” Thomas Starzl, 2016
Burden of Genius plunges the viewer into the controversy swirling around Starzl’s turbulent 60-year career before we land in the 1980s, the decade when organ transplantation, the stuff of science fiction, becomes a reality. Accusations of blind career ambition collide with reflections from colleagues and patients who credit him with saving thousands of lives through his innovations in surgery and immunotherapy.
Fueled by coffee, cigarettes and the odd ten-minute catnap he pushes himself relentlessly, acquiring mythic status and attracting the most talented young surgeons in the world who now run most of its top transplant centres.
“Working in the trenches was a form of insanity,” Starzl said later. “It was a death march. At the end I was afraid I’d lost touch with humanity.”
Burden of Genius is the story of an innovator as complex and elusive as the biological secrets he
unlocked. It is also a reflection on the price of scientific progress by the man many consider the
greatest surgeon of the 20th century and the father of organ transplantation.