Archive of Devastation (Derek Jarman’s ‘Blue,’ part 6)

The intravenous drip, long since a fact of life for Jarman, is here the mechanism that delivers one of his medications, the Gancyclovir (DHPG) that targets the encroaching blindness, and whose side-effects the voiced soundtrack enumerates in a harrowing passage punctuated by the rhythm of an oxygen machine:

The side-effects of DHPG, the drug for which I have come into hospital to be dripped twice a day, are:  Low white blood cell count, increased risk of infection, low platelet count which may increase the risk of bleeding, low red blood cell count (anaemia), fever, rash, abnormal liver function, chills, swelling of the body (oedema), infections, malaise, irregular heart beat, high blood pressure (hypertension), low blood pressure (hypotension), abnormal thoughts or dreams, loss of balance (ataxia), coma, confusion, dizziness, headache, nervousness, damage to nerves (paraesthesia), psychosis, sleepiness (somnolence), shaking, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite (anorexia), diarrhoea, bleeding from the stomach or intestine (intestinal haemorrhage), abdominal pain, increased number of one type of white blood cell, low blood sugar, shortness of breath, hair loss (alopecia), itching (pruritus), hives, blood in the urine, abnormal kidney function, increased blood urea, redness (inflammation), pain or irritation (phlebitis).

Retinal detachments have been observed in patients both before and after initiation of therapy.  The drug has caused decreased sperm production in animals and may cause infertility in humans, and birth defects in animals.  Although there is no information in human studies, it should be considered a potential carcinogen since it causes tumours in animals.

If you are concerned about any of the above side-effects or if you would like any further information, please ask your doctor.  [Blue, 18-19]

As New York Times critic Stephen Holden observed after a screening of Blue at the New York Film Festival in October 1993, “The recitation of the possible side effects of an experimental drug is horrifying:  many sound far worse than the blindness the drug is intended to thwart”  (A Movie Where All the Motion is Metaphorical,” Oct. 2, 1993).  The uncertain prospect that unfolds with this enumeration leaves the patient facing blindness in a cognitive predicament figured in the narration in terms of visual perception:  “In order to be put on the drug you have to sign a piece of paper stating you understand that all these illnesses are a possibility. / I really can’t see what I am to do.  I am going to sign it”  (Blue, 19).

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