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A very realistic and absorbing look into the world of a cardiovascular surgeon
Steek22 September 2000
Like most physicians, I tend not to watch medical shows in Movies and on Television; partly because they aren't usually very realistic - the real world seldom has sufficient drama to make good entertainment - and partly because one doesn't normally look for relaxation or entertainment in the same field in which one works. I saw Threshold for the first time recently only because I am a great admirer of Donald Sutherland's considerable talent. In this film, Sutherland is at his best, creating a portrait of a Cardiovascular Surgeon which is so real I could recognize several of the surgeons I know personally. He embodies both their strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps the most notable attribute he gives the fictitious Dr. Vrain is the total commitment and life absorbtion which a heart surgeon must have, even when it weakens his ability in other facits of life. One of the film's advisors was Dr. Denton Cooley, the pioneering Dallas Surgeon; Sutherland must have studied and worked with him extensively to so perfectly capture the personality and persona. The film follows his lead in making nurses, and their daily routines in the hospital unusally true and realistic also. This film is worth seeing just for the strength of Sutherland's portrayal and the realistic view of the medical world alone.
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An experience of great depth and humanity.
BERSERKERpoetry30 April 2010
"Threshold" is a film with a very clear, heavy presence of reality. The trade-off of this, of course, is the same as all such realist films - pacing. This is not something you can watch for big thrills and the explosive energy of medical trauma. Richard Pearce, and his cinematographer, Michel Brault, create a world that looks and feels so human it's almost painful. Each successive scene is like a new revelation on light and colour and depth of field. Brault gets right into the action, the movement, the emotional expression. The most remarkable thing about James Salter's script is how it avoids all those common medical clichés and falsehoods so often employed in such stories. The three lead actors - Donald Sutherland, Jeff Goldblum, and Mare Winningham - are observed in an almost documentarian way. They are people of depth, but not in a way we commonly see in films. The characters in "Threshold" are not distant, no, but what we get from them depends on our power of perception. They are laid out in front of us in much the same way as each person we encounter in life. That's the great strength of Pearce's direction here (his next film, "Country", has a similar approach).

"Threshold" is mostly unknown, and not available on DVD. There is one main reason for this - it was a Canadian production, released at a time when such films weren't widely seen, and commonly forgotten soon after. I paid a significant amount to purchase the VHS online. I don't regret this, but the breathtaking cinematography deserves a modern format.
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Absorbing and realistic
T-10009 September 1999
I wasn't really looking forward to seeing this film, and only ended up watching it because it stars Donald Sutherland and Jeff Goldblum, two of Hollywood's most talented and inimitable actors.

In the end, though, I glad I did watch it - THRESHOLD turned out to be an engaging and absorbing drama. It's a fictional account of the first ever artificial heart transplant, and feels so realistic that you'd never guess it was made two years before the artificial heart became a reality.

Donald Sutherland's first-rate performance is probably the highlight of the movie - when he's this good, you wonder if there's anyone he couldn't act off the screen. A then unknown Jeff Goldblum holds his own admirably as the idealistic young doctor who invented the artificial heart, and the film features some impressive camerawork, most notably the opening tracking shot.

All in all, it helps if you're a Sutherland fan, but it's not essential; this is one of those movies whose relaxed pace, absorbing atmosphere and strong performances will have you hooked right from the start.
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Recommend this movie as factually based.
tdilts92197 March 2006
As near as I can tell, this movie is based directly on Dr. Denton Cooley's career. Dr. Cooley WAS the first doctor to use an artificial heart in a patient whose heart was unrepairable on the operating table. He was chastised for doing this at the time without approval and so he started his own hospital, The Texas Heart Institute. This movie closely follows the circumstance of that operation that transpired in the 1960's long before the first APPROVED artificial heart was used in Barney Clark in December of 1982. I remember the time well as I had to wait an extra day for Dr. Cooley to operate on me as he was delayed in getting back to Houston after Mr. Clarks operation. This is one movie based on closely related facts.
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Not a disease-of-the-week tearjerker
Lunar_Eclipse_Scoping2 April 2004
"Threshold" is a meticulously crafted Canadian drama with several stars in top form. There's Donald Sutherland as the heart doctor who is warm and genial, but still keeps an emotional distance from his daily activities. This is evidenced in the scene where he's talking about the miracles that he's experienced in his life, and he doesn't mention a single one of his life-saving operations. He doesn't see himself as a Superman, just an ordinary man doing his job. He has no ego or God-like persona, he's just a dedicated doctor. He is so phenomenal in this role that I would have to say it's my favorite Donald Sutherland performance, and he's given many great ones. I also thought this was one of Jeff Goldblum's best performances, right up there with "The Fly". In "Threshold", he is totally believable as a 34-year-old man who has dedicated probably every inch of free space in his mind thinking about his exhilirating project for over a decade, possibly all his life. When people scoff at his ideas with vague, juvenile arguments, he begins rambling and rambling about the specific virtues of his experiment so descriptively, passionately, sometimes euphorically that the result is often exciting, like in the incredible scene towards the end between him and the radio personality; he always totally ignores any childish comments and goes straight to the heart of the matter. It's no wonder that when his invention seems to work he is suddenly overcome with grandiosity, because he basically is his project, totally. Few people ever devote this much of their life and minds to one incredible concept like this, and as a result, he becomes carried away.

Mare Winningham is such a priceless jewel in "Threshold" as Sutherland's first artificial heart transplant. She is luminous in every one of her scenes, particularly towards the end. We feel so much sympathy for her character and only want the best for her in the end. She should have been Oscar-nominated along with Sutherland and Goldblum for this. I'll never forget how much I could truly feel her sense of loss and fear after the surgery: "I'm just not the same."

The film obviously raises the issue that many people feel Sutherland and Goldblum are "playing God", and I could be wrong, but that was kind of an impression I got from one scene right after Winningham's surgery when she's still sedated. Sutherland comes to see her and as he's watching her sleep he hears the ominous sound of a helicopter overhead, which we know is the press, but it's almost like a rumble from a God uknown, a private message to Sutherland, at least that's what I imagined his character might be thinking. I'm not sure if it signified an approval of or anger at the operation, but I would guess that in his character's mind it would have been the latter.

The film has a deceptively happy ending. Winningham seems to physically fine in the end, but as she's walking with her parents from the hospital we can see in her eyes that she's lost herself and will probably never be the same. She may in time learn to forget somewhat about her anxieties or put them aside, but it's doubtful. Then of course there's always the possibility she could die the very next day, being that the prosthetic heart is so experimental.

The film has some very beautifully lit scenes, like the first scene that we see Winningham talking to Sutherland on the street at night. It's the almost glowing background lights that make this scene so beautiful, apart from the actors; it has an ethereal feel to it.

I walked away from "Threshold" feeling that I had gained something as a human being from watching it. Not only that, I enjoyed the experience!

My rating: 10/10
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Sci-fi in 1981, almost true to life in 1998
wesish30 June 2006
This movie is well-worth watching and I highly recommend it for many of the reasons from others listed here. As another reviewer "tdilts9219" noted, it appears based on the famous Texas heart center in real life. Surprisingly in 1998, the fictional 1981 plot came even closer to a real life situation. In Oxford England, Aug 1998, a renowned heart surgeon Stephen Westaby placed heart replacement pump AB-180 into a young woman Julie Mills to save her life. The AB-180 was invented by George Magovern, a US inventor and has the same key property as the heart replacement in the movie. Add a few of innovations from Jeff Goldblum's fictional inventor, and AB-180 would be a match for the movie. Wait another decade, and it might be another case of sci-fi preceding reality. (source Reader's Digest, April 2000)
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A forgotten gem
cy-gt119 October 2008
I wish this film would come out on DVD. Others here have written well about the movie, so I won't add to that. But it's illuminating that 25 years after I first saw it, there are scenes that still stand out vividly in my mind. One of my favorites is when, the night before the surgery while Sutherland is making his final plans, he pauses for a moment in front of the x-ray light box, and spreads his hand out on it. He quietly examines his hand, the hand of a surgeon that will soon cut out a woman's heart and replace it with a machine. Can he really do it? Should he? An amazing moment. Whoever has the rights, please release this on DVD!
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One of the best unknown hit
ourilk4 July 2019
I am not the only viewer who believes that "Threshold," a very low key drama at first viewing, is outstanding film. One online review considered it one of a personal "unknown 'ten best.'" I watch it again and again, completely absorbed by the intense concentration with which Donald Sutherland plays Dr. Thomas Vrain, a highly skilled and dedicated cardiovascular surgeon. Vrain meets, and has his hospital retain the services of, an offbeat biologist, Aldo Gehring (Jeff Goldblum), who is pursing the invention of an artificial heart. Against all advice and straining medical ethics, Dr. Vrain performs a successful transplant of Gehring's artificial heart to save a patient with an otherwise hopeless congenital defect. "Threshold" is a meticulously crafted production with impeccable, nearly mesmerizing performances in the even most minor roles. Sutherland is at his best in this film, creating so realistic a portrait of a brilliant surgeon that one physician reviewer on this site claimed to recognize several surgeons known to him personally, with Sutherland embodying both their strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps the most notable attribute of the fictitious Dr. Vrain is his total, and no doubt indispensable, commitment to and absorption in his skill. One of the film's advisors was Dr. Denton Cooley, a pioneering Dallas Surgeon; under whom Sutherland studied, and seems to have managed to portray with utter fidelity as the leading character. Cooley was the first surgeon to use an artificial heart in a patient with an irreparable heart. He was professionally reprimanded for doing it with¬out approval and so started his own hospital, The Texas Heart Institute. The film very loosely follows this little known event, and it is worth seeing if only for the strength of Sutherland's portrayal, no less than its high production values and the assured performances of the entire cast. This was a Canadian production. For some reason it was never transcribed to DVD in Canada, although versions are available from the Czech Republic, Germany, even Greece. I have a gradually deteriorating VHS tape, which will no doubt wear out in the watching of it. The vagaries of licensing agreements seem to have claimed yet another creative victim.
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Deeply moving, smart film
topfiverecords26 November 2005
This movie is so understated and yet so powerful and moving it took me by surprise. The three principle actors (Sutherland, Goldblum, Winningham) do a fantastic, believable job of bringing their characters to life. I was quite impressed with the writing, directing, and, as I've said, acting. The only thing that made me watch this movie, at first, was that I am a fan of Donald Sutherland. Once I sat through it I could not stop thinking about it. The quiet power Sutherland brings to his character is a fine example of an actor really "getting" his part Jeff Goldblum's handling of the part of the brash and slightly off center researcher is one of his best performances. Mare Winningham's quiet desperation as the heart patient is truly believable and heart felt without going over the top. Everyone in this movie really seemed to fit right in, giving the movie a "real-life" feel. An all around well done movie. Too bad it's not on DVD.
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Unusual low-key medical drama.
rmax30482320 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
In the ten years or so before this film's release there was a flurry of high-profile breakthroughs in cardiovascular surgery. Heart transplants, bypass surgery, mechanical hearts, animal hearts in human bodies. Names like DeBakey became household words.

One might imagine this low-budget movie to be a sensationalized cashing in on the popularity of the subject, but it isn't that at all. It's a slow-moving and thoughtful story of a young woman's having an artificial heart implant, the original bionic woman. And it's no small thing. Not to the administrators, not to the inventor, not to the surgeon, and certainly not to the patient.

The surgeon is Donald Southerland and he's already world famous, the kind of guy who strikes awe in others at medical conventions. And Southerland's performance, like those of the other principals, is unimpeachable. He's the kind of guy you want for your surgeon when your time comes -- always relaxed, confident, sympathetic but honest, and eyeball-coagulatingly competent. Marcus Welby without the small-town cornball crap. When he finishes the climactic two-and-a-half hour operation, he goes to his office, props his feet carelessly on a table, sighs, and watches TV. The majority of us would be out getting juiced up or sobbing in a church pew. The best thing about Southerland's character is his lack of arrogance. He's not a narcissist despite the standing ovation. And the actor is able to project this, the kind of self-regard that comes not from pride but from satisfaction at having done a good job and helped someone else in the process. I've seen standing ovations for professionals and the recipients were all visibly moved more than Southerland, who seems surprised. Vincent Scully got such an ovation before his last class at Yale. I never got a standing ovation, but I got several good laughs. Once at a late-night lecture on sociological theory I spoonerized the term "structural-functional." And once at a convention, a stranger approached me with a shy smile and said, "You're (insert my name here), aren't you?" I blushed slightly and admitted to being that personage and asked if he was familiar with my work. "No, I don't know you," he said, "I just read your name tag." The impudent pup. A standing ovation and five dollars will get you a free cafe mocha at Starbuck's.

Where was I? Oh, yes. The movie. Jeff Goldblum is the inventor. And man is he a different type. Where Doctor Southerland avoids publicity and hossanahs from the press, knowing that something could go South at any moment, Goldblum takes eagerly to the airways. He's not an egotist either, but a visionary. You know, the kind of guy who intuits the future and carries on about "new paradigms." Southerland becomes angry and tries unsuccessfully to keep Goldblum quiet. The script has a surgeon ask Goldblum if he is a doctor. "Yes -- umm, biology." The surgeon says contemptuously, "Biology. That explains it. Treat some patients for a while." Unfortunately some MDs do have this attitude. If you have no clinical practice you don't know anything. Which is rather like Arnold Schwarzenegger saying that if you haven't lifted weights you don't know anything.

The patient who receives this plastic/metal contraption is Mare Winningham, who is quite good, and who is exactly right for the part. She's young, but not too young. Pretty, but not heartbreakingly so. Winsome but not pathetic. After the operation, when it is clear that she will recover, she lies in bed scared to death, frightened because if she goes to sleep the heart might stop. What a nice touch, and nothing much is made of it.

That brings us to the aspect of the film which many people will probably find daunting. It's slow. Nobody shouts angrily at anyone. There is no fist fight. There isn't an underground chamber where comatose bodies are suspended from cables and their organs harvested.

The central figure in the drama is the heart itself and we hardly know anything about it. We have no idea how it works. We hardly even SEE it.

We get to see a lot of other surgical-type things though -- angiograms and that sort of stuff, the kind that Linda Blair underwent in the course of "The Exorcist." Interesting details about an operation in which somebody gets an artificial valve. I always wondered how they got that little ring in there and now I have some idea. The sutures in this case are too long and Southerland casually rebukes his scrub nurse with a soft wisecrack, "What do you want me to do, sew it up from the other room?" So there's no blood, no violence, no sex, nobody poisons anyone else or does anyone in a laundry room. Instead of grand opera we're given a small leisurely story of a successful artificial heart implant. The Big Themes we might expect from a script written by a committee of MBAs are only suggested. "Will I be the same?" "The religious people are after me." The extension of those glimmers of doubt or of definition is left up to the viewer.

Recommended -- if you're patient.
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Believable Blend of Science and Fiction
view_and_review17 December 2019
I think the most attractive sci-fi movies are those that are closer to truth than fiction. I remember when Jurassic Park came out in 1993 (I see you Jeff Goldblum) it was such a hot topic. In fact, even though I was only a teenager, I don't think I'd ever heard the term DNA before. Jurassic Park popularized the three letter acronym and made us all believe that it may even be possible to revive a long dead species.

Threshold has a similar believability. Doctor Vrain (Donald Sutherland) is the world's preeminent heart surgeon. He has performed such cutting edge heart surgeries they could be considered miracles. But there are conditions he can't even fix.

Dr. Aldo Gehring (Jeff Goldblum) is a biologist that believes he can create an artificial heart. As he put it, man didn't fly by mimicking a bird, they flew by creating a machine different than a bird. So trying to mimic a heart is similarly futile. Dr. Aldo invented a heart with a tiny steam engine that uses just a drop of water that it constantly recycles to drive it. And instead of pumping blood as a normal heart would by contracting and expanding, it uses a vortex action to pump blood throughout the body.

Threshold gives us that perfectly believable blend of science and fiction. It gives us that with the drama of a hospital movie/show that so many of us love. In the end, we all want to see lives saved because it gives us hope. And maybe that's what the true appeal of Threshold is--that it instills hope.
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From a parent's perspective
monttrac14 April 2006
Amazingly to me, this film appeared on cable very often when my child was an infant with congenital heart defects. The makeup giving Mare Winningham the look of oxygen deprivation was very realistic and gives the viewer a picture of the "dusky" skin tone of some heart patients. The restraint of the Vrain/Carol relationship was right on, and the peripheral but agonized part of the parent was poignantly depicted by Carol's father. The film is almost a relief from the typical "dramatized" film about illness. Heart difficulties are inherently dramatic to the lay person (perhaps not to doctors, though) and need no melodramatic treatment. The understatement, the lack of statement all serve the subject well. The cold, orderly world of the (urban, state-of-the-art)hospital that contains so much extraordinary work comes across beautifully in this film. I'm glad others appreciate it.
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Threshold of death
Threshold is engrossing viewing, a film I wished I had watched in it's release to video in 1985. Donald Sutherland is such a fine actors, and turns in what is a fine and flawless performance, as a legendary heart surgeon, the best, and you look at him as a heart surgeon, not an actor, he's that good. When approached by a young brilliant med student, (Goldblum- very good, though can't match Sutherland as no actor can here ) who's developed the first artificial heart transplant, it becomes a last resort for a needy young girl (Mare Winningham, the second great performance) who desperately needs a heart, as everything else is useless, like parts that don't work. The frightening aspect here, is of course, that the artificial heart hasn't been tested, if only on a monkey, where it led us to believe Goldblum, might be lying about this, as if Sutherland really wanted a confirmation from Winningham. But if this was the only chance of survival, regardless of it's high risk factor, you'd take it, where in the aftermath here, we're kind of left with an open, optimistic, if unsatisfying ending as in the aftermath of story. Before Winningham's troubles with getting a new heart, almost mid movie, we are subject to one of Sutherland's prize patients (Lerner, having a bad stroke of luck, with a bad matching heart) which kind of propels Sutherland, and co, in taking the risk with Winningham. This movie maintained my interest, all the way, through with it's interesting handling of story, and Sutherland's lifestyle, plus Goldblum's intriguing, avid young character, and Lerner had his moments. I enjoy this movie more, every time I see it, where this is another 80's view you should seek out, if even just to see Sutherland's engaging brilliant performance, in this smart, engaging medical drama. Truly unforgettable musical score.
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