VIFF Film Review - Physician, Heal Thyself (2023)

Still image of Dr Gabor Mate for the documentary Physician, Heal Thyself

Dr Gabor Maté is a bestselling author and well-known physician in Vancouver. In the documentary “Physician, Heal Thyself” director Asher Penn wanted Dr Maté to have the chance to tell his life story in his own words. In a voice mail left with Dr Maté, Asher says “…you’ve done all these interviews, you’re a bestselling author but I can’t actually find that much information about your story. Which is ironic given how life stories inform so much of you work.”

Dr Gabor Maté sits down with Asher Penn and starts his story before he was even born with his family origin in Hungary. He was born in Budapest in 1944 during the German occupation. He speaks very candidly about his childhood, his war torn country, his relationship with his parents, his Jewish upbringing and immigrating to Canada in the mid 1950’s during the Hungarian revolution. He recalls his teen years, living in Vancouver, as being very lonely and he struggled to fit in with his peers who didn’t prioritize education as much as he did. He had seen and lived so much more than his classmates. His passion for writing began in high school when his first article was published in grade 12. He went onto write for UBC’s newspaper, The Ubyssey, and after university he had recurring articles in the Vancouver Sun and the Globe and Mail. He now has five books in his bibliography sold worldwide.

He met the love of his life, Rae, while studying at UBC. Their meet cute is quite a lovely story. He then speaks of his career in education, teaching in North Vancouver and his decision to return to school to study medicine and how challenging that was for his young family. After graduating from medical school he opened his first practice in East Vancouver and threw himself into his career helping out patients at all hours of the day and even taking on extra work at the hospital. He makes no light of how he became a workaholic and how that affected his career and personal life. He discloses his own struggles with addiction and discovering his diagnosis of ADHD which led to writing his first book Scattered Minds. He also worked with the most vulnerable population on the downtown eastside of Vancouver. Here he saw the clear link between trauma and addiction and how addiction is an attempt to heal with human pain and this lead to his further study of addiction.

“Healing comes from the word wholeness. And wholeness means knowing and integrating and accepting and reconciling all your different parts. It doesn’t mean perfection.”

Throughout this documentary Dr Maté makes no excuses for his past transgressions with his wife and children and reflects on his life journey in a painfully honest and authentic way. I really loved the way director Asher Penn used home video clips, cartoons, archival footage and pictures to help visualize the story Dr Maté was telling. Dr Maté really bares his soul in this film and if you’re an admirer of his work, you’ll definitely want to check it out.

Physician, Heal Thyself is screening at the 42nd Vancouver International Film Festival which runs September 28 – October 8.

Tickets and info at viff.org

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