The season of the wolf is upon us, and with it comes all of the werewolf movies designed to make us marvel at transformations and mayhem. One of my perennial favorites is An American Werewolf in London. There is, however, one piece of the film that has always struck me as a bit of shoddy storytelling. Don’t get me wrong – I love the film, and continue to hold it in high esteem. But there’s one plot point that just makes me wonder. Something that continues to bug me after all the years and repeated viewings. Something I’m willing to bet quite a few healthcare professionals, as well as intelligent folks across the board, have wanted to ask: why in the hell did Alex (Jenny Agutter) not feel any type of alarm that David (David Naughton) kept telling her he was a werewolf?
|So awesome, except for one thing…
From their first interactions, it’s pretty clear that Alex wants to fuck David at all costs, includingh her professional judgment. From the suggestive feeding of his meal to reading to him at night, she takes on the role of sexy caretaker, which violates the tenants of nursing pretty hard. I have known and worked besides nurses that are dedicated to their jobs, and trust me, those jobs ain’t pretty most of the time. But no one wants to watch a movie in which someone is cleaning bed sores, lifting a morbidly obese patient, or helping a patient get to the bathroom whilst covered in vomit; it doesn’t make for a good plot convention. So while Alex is playing the stereotypical role of the hot nurse flirting with her young male patient, she’s not only breaching some ethical quandaries by throwing herself at someone she’s supposed to be objectively healing, but also overlooking some troubling signs as well. When David calls her into his room, crying, he kisses her and proclaims, “I’m a werewolf.” This is where red flags should have gone up: a nurse with his or her thinking cap on would have called for a psych consult and had him held for a few more days’ observation. Not Alex. Their exchange is telling:
Alex: What do I think? About the possibility of you becoming a monster in two days, or about visits from dead friends?
David: I was dreaming again?
Alex: Yes, I think so.
Denial: it’s not just a river in Egypt. He’s presenting two possibilities: a.) he’s a supernatural monster and b.) he’s being visited by a friend that was murdered in front of him. This is not a stable young man. Both possibilities should have raised some questions about the state of his mental health, especially for someone who is trained as a healthcare provider. What does she do to a man she writes off as a traumatized foreigner? She brings him home and has sex with him. I am all for hopping on the train to Pleasuretown when the mood strikes you, but Jesus H. Christ, lady, when someone practically hands you a neon card screaming, “I’M MENTALLY UNSTABLE!” you do NOT invite that person into your home and exchange bodily fluids. Someone asked me at one point if I’d have a problem with it if the nurse character was male and the unstable one was female, and the answer is a resounding yes. No amount of attraction should compromise your sense of professional responsibility and safety.
|You’re smart – use your damn brain, girl!
It doesn’t get much better the further we get into the film. After a nocturnal visit from Jack (the ever-perfect Griffin Dunne, who happens to be one of my favorite parts of the film), Alex feels the need to play along with David’s description of the encounter in a flippant fashion.
Alex: What’s wrong? I heard voices.
David: Just me being crazy.
Alex: Are you alright?
David: No, I don’t think so.
Alex: Come back to bed now.
David: Do I seem crazy to you?
Alex: David, what is the matter?
David: I just saw Jack again.
Alex: Where? Here?
Alex: What did he say?
David: He said that tomorrow I’ll turn
into a monster.
Alex: Do you believe him?
David: Do you believe me?
Alex: I believe that you’re very upset. I believe that you loved him very much, and that somehow you blame yourself for his death.
Again, she does not know him well enough to know if this is par for the course, or if there’s an underlying mental issue that was set off by extreme trauma that resulted in a nearly month-long coma. She should be proceeding with caution; nurses don’t just flip off that switch when they clock out. Ask yourself: if someone is in such a fragile mental state that they tell you they’re having waking conversations with dead friends, why on Earth would you continue to keep that person in your home? Most people would express concern that David is showing signs of psychosis; not Alex, who has the fucking training to recognize this. Her response to David’s genuine concern is, “I’m torn between feeling incredibly sorry for you and finding you terribly attractive.” Again, the need for sex trumps her common sense.
Once things come to a head, Alex still needs help in realizing that something is very wrong with the situation. She finally starts to get that something might be off when she returns home from work (sidenote: who the hell leaves a stranger alone in their home for a 12-hour shift plus commute after they’ve told you they’re struggling with a severe trauma? Do you not worry about suicide risk?) and finds that he’s not there. By this time, the audience knows that he’s really a werewolf and that this trust/charity/stupidity saved her life. As an outsider looking in, you can’t help but wonder what the hell she was thinking. When he shows up the next morning wearing only a woman’s coat with stories of fugue and waking up naked in a zoo, that should be her sign that something is incredibly wrong and she needs to get him help fast. That’s what would have happened in a more rational world, but we’re so far beyond that at this point that she’s willing to laugh it off in favor of getting tackled to the bed. It’s only when a concerned Dr. Hirsch calls her to ask about David’s mental state (“Is David behaving strangely?… I want you to bring David to me straight away…. Are you certain he’s lucid? You won’t need any help?”) that she agrees to bring him in for observation. Her explanation at that point? “Dr. Hirsch will know what to do.” Because we all know that you refuse to even question that this person you were so desperate to get home and in bed could possibly be a dangerous individual that could harm you. Through these actions, Alex invalidates her professional training and sense of self-preservation in favor of a good orgasm.
|And it all started like this.
And that, my friends, makes a mockery of multiple facets of this character: she is interested only in sex, she doesn’t care about her professional ethics, she ignores symptoms of psychological disorder, and she needs her male counterpart to tell her that something is amiss. This is an insult to every nurse that puts his or her patient’s well-being ahead of his or her own wants and needs, including the need to eat and use the restroom. This implies that nurses not only fit the stereotype of the sexpot in a uniform, but that they disregard all signs of illness in favor of their sex drives. Really, nurses deserve far better treatment than that.