The Physician (2013 film)

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The Physician
Physician german poster.jpg
German movie poster
Directed by Philipp Stölzl
Produced by Wolf Bauer
Nico Hofmann
Written by
  • Philipp Stölzl
  • Simon Block
  • Christoph Müller
Screenplay by Jan Berger
Based on The Physician by Noah Gordon
Music by Ingo Ludwig Frenzel
Cinematography Hagen Bogdanski
Edited by Sven Budelmann
UFA Cinema
Degeto Film
Beta Cinema
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • 25 December 2013 (2013-12-25)
Running time
  • 150 minutes (Theater)
  • 180 minutes[1] (TV series)
Country Germany
Language English
Budget $32 million
Box office $57,284,237[2]

The Physician (German: Der Medicus) is a 2013 German adventure film based on the novel of the same name by Noah Gordon.[3] The movie focuses on an orphan from 11th-century English town whose mother died of a mysterious illness. The boy vows to study medicine and decides to travel to Persia.[4]


It is the Dark Ages, and the Church is fighting against 'black magic'. The medical knowledge of Greek physicians like Hippocrates and Galen had been lost to the medicine of medieval Europe (until taught later in schools such as the School of Salerno after the Arabic-Latin translation movement of the 12th century). In 11th-century England, travelling barber surgeons attempted to supply medical care to the ordinary population, often at the risk of the Church persecuting them for witchcraft.

Robert Cole has an extraordinary gift, where he can sense when someone left untreated has a terminal illness. He notices this for the first time when he feels it as a little boy when his sick mother is dying of appendicitis, a disease he was unaware of. The young orphan joins an itinerant barber-surgeon who calls himself Barber. Barber teaches him the basics of medieval medicine, with services such as cupping therapy, bloodletting, and dental extraction. Even as an apprentice Rob recognizes the limitations of these simple practices. When Barber suffers from a cataract, Rob consults a real Medicus for him. This Jewish doctor heals Barber completely. He learns a little bit of Jewish culture. He speaks with two children, Jesse and Benjamin. There, Rob sees for the first time a world map, and learns of the famous Ibn Sina, who teaches medicine in distant Persia. So he decides to train there to become a physician. During the Islamic Golden Age, the medicine in the medieval Islamic world (evolved from a symbiosis of Gondishapur Iranian medicine and Nestorian Byzantine medicine in Baghdad's House of Wisdom) is far more advanced than in Europe. The doctor, scientist and philosopher Ibn Sina teaches in Isfahan, the most important school for aspiring practitioners in the world at that time.

Rob is told Christians are forbidden in Muslim lands while Jews are tolerated. Upon arriving in Egypt, Rob, even though he is a baptized Christian, performs a circumcision on himself and calls himself Jesse Ben Benjamin, pretending to be a Jew. In a caravan he comes to know Rebecca who reads to him from a book about Aladdin and Sinbad the Sailor. He experiences a desert storm and almost dies. When he asks for admission to the hospital and school of Ibn Sina, he is thrown out and beaten by guards. Laying in the street with a cut and a concussion he is found by the Guardian, so then he is taken in as a patient.

In a Bimaristan hospital and Madrasa college, he is treated by Ibn Sina and made a student to learn the basics of scientific medicine as well as other sciences and philosophy (including Aristotelian and Islamic philosophy). Rob learns to perform a medical history and medical examination including pulse diagnosis, the leech treatment, the use of opium, including the analgesic effect, and surgical procedures. When a plague breaks out in the city and thousands die, the doctors remain at the patients' side. With the discovery of basic hygienic principles, the plague is overcome. Rob suggests that oriental rat fleas may be the carriers of the Black Death, and with rat poison the pest may be suppressed. Rob's passion for Rebecca flares up again, since her husband temporarily abandons the city, leaving her to become sick and Rob nurses her back to health. There is extramarital sex between Rob and Rebecca that results in a pregnancy. Adultery leads to the threat of a stoning. Rob learns from the Shah about the burden of ruling.

The Christian, Jewish and Islamic religions influence the evaluation of medical science, and a conflict is sparked by the ethical assessment of the autopsy on the human body. As a Zoroastrian dies of appendicitis, Rob learns from him that he does not require his dead body for his religion. Rob secretly performs an autopsy on his body to deepen his knowledge of anatomy and to discover the inflamed vermiform appendix. When the mullahs discover what he has done, both Rob and Ibn Sina are sentenced to death for necromancy, but are freed by palace guards so Rob can perform an appendectomy, while using anesthesia, on the Shah.

Isfahan is betrayed by the mullahs, to the Seljuks, since they want to drive the Jews and secular blasphemers like Ibn Sina out of town. A crowd destroys the hospital and kills the employees. Ibn Sina heads to the burning library and transfers his medical writings to Rob Cole, and also awards him the medical title 'Hakim.' Ibn Sina then stays to die in the burning library.

Rob Cole, as well as others, escape through a gate the Shah has told them about while he and his men go to make a last stand against the Seljuks. Rob returns with Rebecca, as his wife, back to London and establishes a hospital. The old Barber, Cole's first teacher, learns from a little boy of the return of his former pupil and of his fame.



The film premiered on 25 December 2013 in German theaters. It was an immediate box-office hit and earned the producers a Bogey Award for more than 1,000 visitors per copy on its opening weekend and 1 million visitors within ten days.[5]

It was also released as an extended two-part mini-series for the German public TV ARD.


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