MEDICINE VS. MEDIA VS. FAMILY

In 2004, British Sunday Times Journalist Brian Deer investigated Wakefield and his claims, and asserted that his findings in the 1998 Lancet paper were used to induce fear about the MMR vaccine to help push forward a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies and drive up a need for a single dose vaccine – something Deer says Wakefield had been developing. These accusations were then given to the General Medical Council in the form of a complaint by Brian Deer, which ultimately led to the loss of Wakefield and Walker-Smith’s medical licenses in 2010. The unprecedentedly long legal process lasted over six years.

Wakefield’s professional life may have suffered greatly, but as THE PATHOLOGICAL OPTIMIST shows, he has not been without champions. Over the last 14 years, his wife Carmel has stood beside her husband despite the embarrassment of him being renounced by his profession, fleeing England, and losing their family home due to lack of income.

Wakefield’s children also admire their father, and are greatly troubled when newspaper stories and TV programs dispute his claims and call his character into question. His oldest son is involved in the story through a crucial landmark: it was his birthday party where the blood tests of children took place, the results of which ultimately lost his father his medical license.

TWO SIDES, UNDETERRED

The section of the autism community that reveres Wakefield and fights for his findings to be validated also becomes a character within THE PATHOLOGICAL OPTIMIST. Book signings and public appearances take on a rock-star quality, with admirers caught on-camera fawning over how Wakefield looks, dresses, and prepares for the legal fights to come.

Meanwhile, Deer – who chose not to sit for an interview with Bailey – is a constant presence in THE PATHOLOGICAL OPTIMIST, giving interviews on British television and reiterating the findings that over 100 studies have concluded in the past decade: that there is no link between the MMR vaccine and autism, and that Wakefield’s ethics and motives were, and are, suspect.

As Wakefield holds fundraisers, gives speeches, and publishes books to offset court costs, he loses his final appeal in 2014. The Wakefields drop the case for financial reasons. Wakefield, however, never lies low, and the controversy continues to split public and private discussion of autism and its causes (1 in 68 children in the U.S. are identified with autism spectrum disorder).

In April 2016, the documentary Vaxxed, directed by Wakefield, accused the Centers for Disease Control of lying to the public about the link between the MMR vaccine and autism. It was accepted and then withdrawn from New York’s Tribeca Film Festival. Capitalizing on the publicity created by the Tribeca controversy, the filmmakers immediately released Vaxxed to sold-out shows across the country, despite reviews that were critical of Wakefield and his role in the film.

THE PATHOLOGICAL OPTIMIST utilizes hundreds of hours of footage and interviews within Wakefield’s inner circle. Taking a long view of how modern medicine is still reeling from a small case study which asked for more research to be done, the film is a character study and an X-ray of a movement. It’s serves as a cinematic measure of a man, and a deep dive into the decade long media circus that has followed in the wake of Wakefield’s initial 1998 controversial discovery.

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