Leprosy is an increasingly rare chronic infection that dates to ancient times. Surprisingly, most movies portray the condition sympathetically.
A notable un-sympathetic character is the leprous father of Robert the Bruce from the Mel Gibson film "Braveheart." The skin of this ruthless royal deteriorates as his deviousness develops. The skin changes seen are a result of the inflammation that develops against the leprosy bacteria. This can result in an enlarged nose similar to that seen in acne rosacea (WC Fields). Rare in Western countries, leprosy is still prevalent in the third world.
"City of Joy."Most others characters with leprosy in movies are shown sympathetically. Disabled actor Nabil Shaban portrays Anouar, the leader of a group of lepers in India. Leprosy is caused by a bacteria, Mycobacterium leprae. In leprosy, the immune reaction to the bacteria causes nerve inflammation and nerve loss, resulting in tissue destruction and sometimes loss of limbs. This film shows people with leprosy fighting against ostracization and achieve respect.
In "Papillon," Steve McQueen escapes a notorious French prison. On the lam in the jungle, he encounters a smuggler with a severe case of leprosy. Depending on the immune system's reaction to the bacteria, patients can anywhere from a few flat skin patches to extensive bumps (lepromatous form). Though initially shown to shock, this fellow proves to be an ally to McQueen.
To avoid the centuries-old stigma against those with leprosy, some advocate changing the official name of the condition to "Hansen's disease." Former teen pop trio, "Hanson," were unavailable for comment.
In a poignant scene in the Roman epic, "Ben Hur," Charleton Heston is pained to learn that his mother and sister have contracted leprosy while imprisoned. By an act of God at the movie's end, they are cured of this debilitating disease. In modern times, treating leprosy requires long courses of a series of antibiotics. Even so, if a patient's immune system is not as strong a Roman chariot, treatment attempts may be thwarted. Ongoing research, with perhaps some Heavenly help, will hopefully eradicate this condition.
One cannot underestimate the healing power of human touch. "The Motorcycle Diaries" depicts Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara's early years traveling South America as a medical student. Actor Gael Garcia Bernal reveals Guevara's slow enlightenment about the plight of the common man. A derm moment occurs in a leper colony.
Bernal encounters this fellow. Makeup has been used to recreate the appearance of extensive lepromatous leprosy. The mycobacterium thrives in cooler tissue, so tends to aggregate in noses and ears.
Che learns that leprosy, despite popular belief, is relatively non-contagious and is not usually transmitted by touch. So, unlike that colony's doctors and nurses, he decides to shake the patient's hand without a protective glove. For those with skin conditions, including eczema & psoriasis, physical contact with others can be missing in their lives. Reaching out reaffirms their humanity, recognizing and treating the individual, rather than the illness.