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Spiritual enlightenment on the transplant waitlist

  • 03 September 2015

Paul Cox has death on his mind. But also life, as well as the very meaning of human existence, against the backdrop of vast universal mysteries. The veteran filmmaker's latest film Force of Destiny ponders these 'big questions' through the lens of a small story about a man discovering love while facing death.

It stars David Wenham as Robert, a sculptor left floundering on the waitlist for a liver transplant after a bleak prognosis for cancer. The film is based on Cox's memoir Tales From the Cancer Ward, which Wenham describes as a 'poetic, truthful and clear portrayal' of Cox's own time on the transplant waitlist.

'I've known Paul for quite a few years,' says Wenham. 'I did a film with him a number of years ago [1999's Molakai], and knew him during the whole journey of his illness, from diagnosis right through to him eventually receiving the transplant. When he asked me to be involved in the film, I felt privileged.'

So did Wenham's co-star, Shahana Goswami. 'The film is so personal, and so close to Paul's heart,' she says. New Delhi born Goswami plays marine biologist Maya, through whom Robert discovers romance and an Eastern spiritual and cultural approach to death that informs his own confrontation of mortality.

In part the film's almost hallucinogenic, metaphysical digressions are a product of the character's medically-altered state of consciousness. 'Chemotherapy brings a sense of disorientation,' Goswami explains, 'which often leads patients' minds to wander in directions they wouldn't have otherwise.'

This leads Robert, as it did Cox, to new insights into the nature of existence. 'We're a small speck in the universe,' says Wenham. 'It adds a fascinating layer to the film. We see how Indian culture deals with death. We in the West don't really understand and embrace death the way we should.'

On the face of it, you might think that portraying a story that is so personal to the filmmaker might bring with it a heightened sense of responsibility. 'I let that one go,' Wenham admits — he simply approached the role with the same integrity and dedication with which he'd approach any role.

'What I was aware of though, and I think we all were, was that we shot the hospital scenes at the Austin in Melbourne, which was the hospital where Paul had spent so many days and weeks and months. I think everybody involved was aware of what a profound effect that