Updated: Jun 18, 2020
“I have spent the last year trying to move my heart out of the way,” Victoria Mapplebeck explains in her self-directed short film about her cancer treatment. Mostly comprised of footage from her chemotherapy treatment shot with VR from inside her CT scanner, Waiting Room embraces and explores Mapplebeck's heart and personal experience with her cancer.
The film opens with Mapplebeck instructing the viewer via her narration to breathe in and breathe out. We soon learn that this is what she was repeatedly told to do during her treatments, as the radiation therapy was aimed near her heart, and the movement of her chest would help her heart to “dodge the bullet.” This is a physical manifestation of what Mapplebeck has tried to do emotionally throughout her experience with cancer in order to limit not just her own pain, but especially the pain of her loved ones. At the beginning of the film, footage is shown of the ultrasound of her cancer cells. Seamlessly, the footage then transitions from the ultrasound of her cancer cells to the ultrasound of her son in her womb years earlier. The heartbreaking visual parallel shows both why she wants to distance herself from heart and why it is impossible. She wants to stay strong for her child and protect him, but how can she remain unemotional when she is going through something so painful affecting the child that she loves?
This difficulty is then demonstrated through the bulk of the film, which consists of footage of her CT scan underscored by personal audio clips: her and her son singing together, voicemails left by family members, instructional tapes on how to talk to children about chemotherapy. By juxtaposing these emotional audio clips with footage of her staying strong and stoic during her radiation treatment, Mapplebeck gives the viewer insight into her inner battle. This is also intensified by Mapplebeck’s unique choice to film from inside the CT scan, mimicking the trapped feeling and using VR to portray her experience with a literal three dimensionality.
Mapplebeck documents not just her experience of pain, however, but also of love. At one point, we hear her tearfully tells her son, “Nobody should have to really think about their parents’ mortality when they’re young. And I really think the worst part for me in all of this [...] is that I didn’t want you to have that in your life.” To her surprise, however, her son responds by clapping. “One Oscar winning performance,” he jokes. She laughs and counters, “Don’t give me a slow clap! [...] I’m not that good an actress; I couldn’t act crying, Jim.” The moment is painful to listen to, her guilt and sadness palpable, but also sweet and funny as the depth of their connection is audible. Her son muses, “It’s I guess a perk of cancer treatments is you begin to give less shits.” Although his response is likely in part to comfort her, it also reflects a grounded understanding and acceptance of the situation.
It is this acceptance that seems to be Mapplebeck’s ultimate message. Towards the film’s end, she explains that partway through treatment, she asked for her tumor samples. She shows footage of her cancer cells through a microscope, commenting, “They are beautiful in their way […] I realize they are beyond my control.” The final image is that of a card that her son gave her paired with audio of them singing together once again. She cannot control her cancer, her fate, or the emotions of those around her, but she poses this not as positive or negative, simply as a fact that she has come to be at peace with. By sharing her experience in such an intimate and nuanced way, she uses the film not to distance herself from her heart, as she tried to before, but to put it front and center, both acknowledging pain and appreciating beauty.
You can watch Waiting Room here on the "We Are One" Youtube Channel, an online film festival with profits benefitting COVID-19 relief funds.