CAKE Movie, Starring Jennifer Aniston, Portrays Chronic Pain

The subject of chronic pain is so pervasive that it’s finally making its way into popular culture. The latest movie cataloguing life with pain is Cake, starring Jennifer Aniston. The movie hits theaters Jan. 23, 2015.

In Cake, Jennifer Aniston plays a Los Angeles woman with chronic pain named Claire Simmons, whose acerbic wit lends the movie a comedic air although it also has a dramatic element. A woman in Claire’s support group named Nina commits suicide by jumping off a freeway overpass, and the beginning of the movie finds the support group members discussing their feelings about Nina’s tragic end.

Claire, in a way that defines her dark sense of humor, describes the death to support group members—and the audience—ending with a wry, “Way to go, Nina.” The snide comment was enough to get Claire kicked out of the support group.

In Cake, a chronic pain patient has difficultly managing the physical and emotional manifestations of disease.

Meanwhile, Claire herself is suffering immensely, taking painkiller after painkiller to numb her physical and apparently emotional pain. She also engages in destructive behaviors, like drinking wine with her medications. Brash-talking and unhappy, Claire doesn’t have much in life. Her perspective on life has driven away her husband and even physical therapist.

The one bright spot in Claire’s life is her housekeeper, Silvana, who functions as a sidekick, even accompanying Claire to Mexico to pick up painkillers.

Then, Claire begins to see Nina in a series of hallucinations that urge Claire to take her own life. In an effort to quash the feelings, Claire decides to investigate Nina’s death and contacts the woman’s widower, Roy, and son. Roy and Claire develop a friendship and the plot unfolds from there.

The movie has received mixed reviews, with some critics calling the plot ill developed, saved only by Aniston’s stellar acting. The Playlist concludes, “a few chuckles can’t cover up the fact that this is a character study of a character not worth studying.”

But as many moviegoers can attest, sometimes critic reviews are a little more harsh than those of the average viewer looking for an absorbing tale. Those living with or affected by chronic pain could find that Cake offers an interesting plotline.

Despite mixed reviews, moviegoers with chronic pain will likely find the movie Cake relatable.

Aniston approached character development with vigor, undergoing an “uglification” process that included minimal makeup. The only layers applied were intended to make her look unappealing. Aniston wore foundation to make her look sallow and pale and other makeup to resemble scars.

Stringy hair completed the look, undoubtedly a difficult ensemble to sport considering her face would be splashed across gigantic movie theater screens. Vulture reports that Aniston told a movie premier audience:

“I actually found [wearing no makeup on screen] quite awesome and liberating to tell you the truth.”

Although, she adds, that the experience did give her pause like it would many other women. Vulture reports that Aniston fell in love with the script the moment she read it, entranced by Claire’s beautifully tortured soul.

To prepare for the movie, Aniston talked with chronic pain patients for more than a month, asking them what their lives were like on a daily basis. She wanted to understand the nuances of the condition to accurately portray it in the film.

Cake covers topics many pain patients will know intimately well, including pain management, support groups, and mental health.

The movie could almost be a tutorial of how not to manage pain, by taking copious amounts of painkillers and using negativity as a crutch. Instead, there are many vastly healthier lifestyle modifications and alternative medicine treatments that many pain patients find alleviate suffering.

Use the torment depicted in Cake to fuel your own path to pain management and wellness—the healthy way.

Meditation, for example, has been shown to help lift both depression and chronic pain, which frequently go hand in hand. Some studies have shown that depressed people are more likely to develop chronic pain, and alternatively, chronic pain often leads to feelings of sadness.

Everyone feels sad some days, but finding tools to keep your head up and spirits high is important for living with chronic pain. These places to look for inspiration on even the darkest day might come in handy to keep your mental health as balanced as possible.

Diet is also critically important for managing both chronic pain and depression. Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables has been found to help stabilize the mood. Meanwhile vegan and vegetarian diets have been found to alleviate some pain disorders, including rheumatoid arthritis. Several studies have also shown that eating a plant-based diet could help to alleviate pain resulting from fibromyalgia and neuropathy.

Many pain patients, like Claire, find that support groups are immensely helpful. In real life, people have many options, ranging from online groups to in-person meetings facilitated by medical professionals.

Claire also seemed to find it difficult to express her pain and daily life experience to those around her in healthy ways. Fortunately, there are tried-and-true methods for describing to people how you feel to engender their compassion and understanding instead of anger, including asking for help when needed.

The spoon theory is another effective way of understanding low energy levels, in addition to providing a useful way of describing any limited capacity for activity to others.

Claire’s husband became frustrated by her poor attitude and the relationship ended in separation, but many caregivers and pain patients successfully navigate life with chronic pain. That situation is hard on both patient and caregiver, however, and keeping the lines of communication open is crucial for maintaining a healthy relationship.

Above all, managing stress is one of the most important things to do when living with chronic pain. It not only makes life more pleasant, but can also help to minimize suffering.

Do you plan to see the movie Cake?

Image by Ginny via Flickr