The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Blu-ray Review

History tells us of many serious diseases which, thanks to medical breakthroughs, no longer threaten us.  Polio.  Small Pox.  Gone now thanks to science.

In 1951, as was custom in the day, doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore took a tissue sample from one of their patients, Henrietta Lacks.  The sample did what no other had, which was to not only continue to produce cells even after being removed from the body, but to do so at an amazing rate.  As these samples, now code named HELA, continue to become abundant, they are shared freely with other members of the scientific community.  As THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS begins we are treated to a montage of some of the advances in health care which HELA helped bring about.  When a doctor is asked who the cells came from, he gives the press a phony name – Helen Lane.  But eventually the truth comes out, interesting freelance writer Rebecca Skloot (Byrne), who wishes to write a book about the late Mrs. Lacks (she died of cervical cancer).  She is pointed in the right direction to the late woman’s family, where she is met with suspicion.  Among those with an untrusting nature is Mrs. Lacks daughter, Deborah (Winfrey).  Will Skloot be able to ingratiate herself with the family?  That is the story told in THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Originally shown on HBO, THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS was a recent Emmy Award nominee for the year’s best television movie, and a worthy nominee it was.  What surprised me is that it was the only nod the film received.  The film is really a love letter to the late Henrietta Lacks.  As each child, now an adult, looks back at a different time in our history, their growing anger and frustration over how their mother was treated is evident.  Engaging childhood memories, from those that have them, soon give way to rage and anger, as history has been denied the name of the person whose very body was given so that countless nameless people could live.  Also upsetting is the fact that the family never received any kind of monetary restitution for what their mother made possible, a fact that angers when it’s learned that, after a few years Johns Hopkins stopped giving samples away and started selling them, making a nice profit.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Acting wise, the film is top notch.  Byrne is headstrong and resilient as Skloot and Winfrey gives her strongest performance since her Oscar-nominated work in THE COLOR PURPLE three decades ago.  And though filmed mostly in Georgia, the film also makes great use of some Baltimore landmarks, including row houses, the Inner Harbor and, in what I thought was a nice nod to Ms. Winfrey’s work in THE COLOR PURPLE, lunch at Celie’s Inn.

You may not be satisfied with how the story ends (I can only say here that Johns Hopkins does not come out smelling like a rose) but it is a story I recommend you see.  Who knows, maybe in a few years you will read that science has finally discovered a cure for Cancer or AIDS?  And when you do, send up a silent “thank you” to Henriette Lacks, whose own short life and early death will have helped make it possible.


Video:  The film is presented in its original 1:78.1 aspect ratio and visually looks like it was a made for television film.  The overall look of the film is dark, even the sunny exterior scenes.

Audio:  The soundtrack is presented in DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 and is very well mixed.  Emotional characters lead to emotional moments and all of them are captured and presented cleanly

Family Featurette (2:30):  some quick interview clips featuring several of Henrietta Lacks descendants.

Filming in Georgia (3:19):  A short featurette touting the film’s Georgia shoot.


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