In recent years we've seen a number of films that have told uplifting, even humorous stories surrounding cancer patients. But Andy Whitfield's cancer story is very real, and in Lilibet Foster's inspiring documentary Be Here Now, we see one man attempt to live his life without letting the disease define him. His fight to survive, strengthened by the love and support of his wife Vashti and their two children, echoes the constant battle waged by Whitfield's defining role as Spartacus, the slave-turned-gladiator combatant who overcame insurmountable odds to defeat an empire.
The screening I attended tonight was sponsored by popular Spartacus fan group the Red Serpents, and also partially by me through Punch Drunk Critics. So it was a rowdy group who engaged in a primal battle cry in honor of Whitfield before the film began. It also meant that everybody there knew how Whitfield's fight against non-Hodgkins lymphoma would end. But that didn't prevent the tears from flowing at every heartbreaking turn, or laughs as Whitfield horses around with his kids despite physical exhaustion. If anything, knowing the outcome made his positivity throughout all the more meaningful.
The Welsh-born Whitfield was known for his striking good looks, becoming one of Australia's top male models for a number of years before breaking into Hollywood. His big break came when he landed the title role in Starz's Spartacus: Blood and Sand, and his star was absolutely on the rise. However, before filming on the second season could begin, a recurring pain sent him to the hospital where the cancer diagnosis was made. Everything else was put on hold as the spirited Whitfield sought means to treat it. For him that meant going beyond mere chemotherapy; traveling to India for healing treatments, acupuncture, and more. Meanwhile, Vashti is his rock, encouraging him to never stop fighting no matter what happens. Foster, an Oscar-nominated filmmaker who has been behind a number of acclaimed documentaries, was granted unprecedented access to the family during their highs and lows. We see them celebrate the victories, such as the initial reduction of the tumors and the return of Whitfield's energy. We're also there during those terrible moments when the news isn't so good, and despite their sunny outlook there is far more bad news than good. The intimate nature of the footage Foster captures is extremely tough to watch. We're brought so deeply into their lives that we feel like we're in the room with them for every critical moment, both good and bad.
Through it all, the Whitfields live by the mantra of "Be Here Now", which is tattooed on his arm. The film shows them living every single moment to the fullest, and planning for a future they expected to see together. Regardless of Whitfield's fate, Be Here Now shows him to be a shining example of how to fight for the things that really matter. "Never stop; never stop fighting till the fight is done.”
Rating: 4 out of 5