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Medicine and the Movies! How Many Did You Get Right?

by Suzanne Daniluk, RN on June 24th, 2015

Recently, we wrote about a USC-affiliated program that gives out free, factual medical information to Hollywood scriptwriters.  Still, there appears to be some who may have failed to consult the experts. Test your knowledge of medical facts and fiction in the movies.

Fact or fiction?

  1. In the classic James Bond film Goldfinger, a character dies from “skin suffocation” after being completely covered in gold paint. Bond explains in the film that if a square at the spine have been left unpainted, the character would have lived.
  2. In a memorable scene from Pulp Fiction, Vincent Vega (played by John Travolta) rescues Mrs. Wallace (Uma Thurman) from an impending drug overdose with an injection of adrenalin directly into her heart – a standard procedure in emergency rooms.



  1. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), or “shock treatment”, as depicted in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, is a procedure still used today.
  2. In the movie The Firm, starring Tom Cruise, the Gene Hackman character states he can’t fly within 24 hours of scuba diving during a trip to the Cayman Islands. A medical basis for this statement exists; it wasn’t just made up by the screenwriters as a plot device.
  3. In the Godfather, a nurse caring for the Don, who is recovering from an assassination attempt, helps Michael Corleone wheel the Don’s bed into another hospital room for security reasons. This is something that a nurse would readily do when requested.


  1. There is no such thing as suffocation via the skin. However, being covered in paint would clog pores and prevent sweating, thereby potentially risking heat stroke. Paint toxins can also be absorbed through the skin.
  2. There are no medical procedures that require stabbing through the sternum with a needle to reach the heart. Intracardiac injections would be given in a far less dramatic fashion, between the ribs on the left side of the chest.
  3. Part fact, part fiction. ECT is still used to treat major depressive disorder and schizophrenia. The film’s graphic portrayal of ECT is actually somewhat realistic, except that the patient would first be given a short-acting anesthetic and muscle relaxant, and would not be left sitting in the hallway prior to the procedure, nervously awaiting his turn.
  4. For every 33 feet one dives, another atmospheric pressure is added onto the body (out of water, there’s already one atmospheric pressure). The body absorbs nitrogen into the blood stream from the compressed air breathed underwater. Flying lessens pressure, which could lead to bubbling of nitrogen, causing illness or fatality from gas embolus.
  5. Fiction, especially now with bed-assignment personnel and computers. Even back then, instant room re-assignment would not be something nurses could perform alone, even for a VIP. Then again, if Michael Corleone is asking…

5 second

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