Written by Zoe Engels, Contributing Writer and Editor
Organ, eye, and tissue donation provide the gift of life. According to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, 2023 was a record-setting year with a total of 46,632 organ transplants performed from deceased and living donors—an 8.7 percent increase over the year 2022. It marked the first time ever that more than 10,000 liver transplants and 3,000 lung transplants were performed in a single year! However, there are still more than 100,000 people on the waitlist for a live-saving transplant.
To set more records in 2024 and decrease the number of people on the waitlist, it’s crucial to advocate for and stay educated about organ, eye, and tissue donation. These five incredible movies provide helpful insight into the world of organ donation, the themes surrounding it, and its gift of life.
In 2008, Leslie Bacardi’s husband, Jorge, received a double lung transplant. He’d suffered from a congenital disease that made it impossible for him to take a full breath—until his double lung transplant at the age of 64. Because of the transplant, and thanks to his life-saving donor, 19-year-old Christopher Mark Gregory who’d suffered a fatal brain aneurysm, Jorge enjoyed 12 more years of life. Prior to Jorge’s passing, the Bacardis were able to connect with the Gregorys in an emotional meeting. Inspired by this true story, 2 Hearts powerfully details how two couples worlds apart are connected through organ donation, showing the transformative power of love and organ donation.
Read SODA’s blog about the film and check out our founder’s interview with Leslie Bacardi.
Directed by Gabriele Muccino and starring Will Smith, Seven Pounds tells the story of Ben Thomas (Smith), a man with a dark and mysterious past. Riddled with guilt and remorse, Ben sets out on a mission to save the lives of seven kind-hearted people. He becomes a living organ donor, giving the gift of life to others through a lung lobe, part of his liver, a kidney, and bone marrow. As he also falls in love with a woman named Emily (Rosario Dawson) who needs a heart transplant, Ben goes to great lengths to save her. A story about sacrifice, love, and life, Seven Pounds is a compelling watch that shows viewers the miracle of organ, eye, and tissue donation.
Written and directed by Nick Cassavetes, who also directed My Sister’s Keeper, this film is a gripping thriller about a father’s desperate attempt to procure a heart transplant for his son. When he learns that his son will die without a six-figure heart transplant that the family cannot afford, John Quincy (Denzel Washington) will do anything to save his son, including taking the surgeon and several other hospital staff hostage at gunpoint. John is on a mission to get his son on the transplant waitlist and get him a new heart. While he faces resistance and countless obstacles along the way, many hostages sympathize with him and acknowledge the grave shortcomings within America’s healthcare system. The film sparks critical conversations about access to life-saving transplants and organ allocation.
My Sister’s Keeper
Based on Jodi Picoult’s best-selling novel, My Sister’s Keeper tells the story of Anna Fitzgerald (Abigail Breslin) who is conceived by desperate, heart-broken parents Sara and Brian (Cameron Diaz and Jason Patric) as a marrow donor for her terminally ill sister (Sofia Vassilieva). As a living donor, young Anna undergoes countless surgeries and procedures that help prolong her sister’s life. However, family dynamics are greatly shaken and disturbed by the decisions Anna’s parents have made. Tensions run high as Anna decides to sue her parents to get emancipation. This film explores the impact of organ, eye, and tissue donation as well as the ethics behind donation, particularly the importance of speaking about organ, eye, and tissue donation within one’s family; obtaining consent; and being educated about donation.
In this R-rated, nonlinear drama, three characters’ lives become interconnected. Paul Rivers (Sean Penn) is a mathematician urgently in need of a heart transplant; Cristina Peck (Naomi Watts) is a loving mother coping with the tragic deaths of her children and husband in a hit-and-run; Jack Jordan (Benicio del Toro) is a convict seeking redemption. When Paul receives a new heart from Cristina’s deceased husband, the characters’ lives begin to collide and weave together. 21 Grams is an intense story about the impact of our actions and the life-saving power of organ, eye, and tissue donation.
Bonus Movie: “Return to Me” is a rom-com about Grace Briggs (Minnie Driver) and Bob Rueland (David Duchovny), who begin a romance entirely unaware of the true depth of their connection. Grace is the recipient of a heart transplant; her donor was Bob’s late wife who was tragically killed in a car accident. The film explores the ways in which organ donation brings people together and the beauty of a second chance at life.
These movies are not only entertaining but also provide a lens through which the viewer can consider the many dimensions and themes surrounding organ, eye, and tissue donation. As the characters navigate their own experiences with donation, we, too, can learn a lot about the impact of organ donation and its vital role in saving lives.
Have you seen any of these movies? Let us know what you think and what they showed you about organ, eye, and tissue donation in the comments below.
If you’re a student and would like to get involved with an organ donation nonprofit, visit sodanational.org/students.