Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders

Critics Consensus

An unflinching, inspiring look at amazing bravery and commitment, Living in Emergency disappoints only in leaving the viewer wanting more.



Reviews Counted: 27

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Audience Score

User Ratings: 283


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Average Rating: 3.8/5

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Movie Info

Bosnia. Rwanda. Kosovo. Sierra Leone. Pakistan. Just a few of the world's humanitarian and political crises in the past years. Whether the result of war or nature, these disasters devastate populations and cripple health systems. Despite the immense dangers and difficulties of the work, one organization, Doctors Without Borders, has continuously intervened at these frontlines of overwhelming human need. Set in war-torn Congo and post-conflict Liberia, Living in Emergency interweaves the stories of four volunteers with Doctors Without Borders as they struggle to provide emergency medical care under the most extreme conditions. Two volunteers are new recruits: a 26 year-old Australian doctor stranded in a remote bush clinic and an American surgeon struggling to cope under the load of emergency cases in a shattered capital city. Two others are experienced field hands: a dynamic Head of Mission, valiantly trying to keep morale high and tensions under control, and an exhausted veteran, who has seen too much horror and wants out. Amidst the chaos, each volunteer must confront the severe challenges of the work, the tough choices, and the limits of their own idealism.

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Critic Reviews for Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders

All Critics (27) | Top Critics (16)

  • Excellent, no-frills...

    Mar 14, 2011 | Full Review…

    Philip French

    Top Critic
  • An arresting if limited film about the work of the medical-humanitarian group Médecins Sans Frontières, whose volunteer doctors provide emergency aid in some of the world's poorest, wartorn countries.

    Mar 11, 2011 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…
  • There's a bit of a gore factor here, obviously, but this is mostly a movie about brave people trying to hang on to their hearts while saving others.

    Jun 18, 2010 | Rating: B | Full Review…

    Tom Long

    Detroit News
    Top Critic
  • The good they accomplish is clearly dwarfed by the people's suffering, which keeps on going even after the war ends and the mission departs.

    Jun 17, 2010 | Full Review…
  • The film confirms it's hard to do brain surgery on a battlefield. But it doesn't take a brain surgeon to think it could go deeper.

    Jun 10, 2010 | Rating: 2.5/4
  • These doctors are hard on themselves and on one another, and as Living in Emergency chronicles their small triumphs and large frustrations, a larger picture emerges, almost despite the film's avowedly local emphasis.

    Jun 4, 2010 | Rating: 3.5/5

Audience Reviews for Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders

Rather than going in depth, "Living in Emergency" is loaded with examples to demonstrate various ways it is difficult to treat people in poor countries as a doctor who is used to the clinical endowment afforded by wealthy economies. It's so demoralizing, most volunteer doctors don't ever do more than one trip. The movie is perhaps too spread out, following four doctors in four different hospitals and hardly adventuring out from their management of chronic frustrations at day-to-day limitations and defeats, but it succeeds in showing us both the emotional toll of being such a doctor and why some are still able do it anyway.

Matthew Slaven
Matthew Slaven

Super Reviewer

Doctors working for Doctors without Borders, known internationally as MSF (Medicins sans Frontiers), struggle with the challenges associated with practicing medicine under the worst conditions. I think I've fallen in love with Dr. Chiara Lepora. She evinces everything this film is about: she's strong-willed, caring, and aware of the distance between what is and what should be. And she's kinda hot. But what one leaves with is a recognition of both the pressures associated with this work and the rewards, and for me, Lepora became the metonym for all of this. This documentary displays the poverty, the sickness, and the triumph that working with MSF entails, and the doctors emerge as flawed heroes, which, in this world, are the only real kind of heroes that exists. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this film, and if I ever meet Lepora, she's going get my number.

Jim Hunter
Jim Hunter

Super Reviewer


"Living in Emergency" is an insightful documentary about Medicins Sans Frontieres(Doctors without Borders) and their operations, focusing on the critical spots of Liberia and the Congo. The former is pulling itself out of the wreckage after a long civil war while the latter is still a war zone. Despite the risk, there are many doctors who volunteer but few are accepted to work alongside native doctors in their countries. There seems to be little to unite the volunteers except there are a lot of heavy smokers amongst them for some reason. One volunteer said he did not like working in the corporate health care system of the United States. The job is difficult with a typical mission lasting about six months. Very few return for a second one because no matter how hard they try, it is only a drop in the bucket. In many parts of the developing world, there is very little health infrastructure to build on and this is "low grade medicine," oftentimes involving preventable diseases.(One doctor comments that his grandfather would have been comfortable in these surroundings.) Good luck with finding a CT scan but at least I know now what kind of drill bit to use to drill into somebody's head.(By the way, this documentary is not for the squeamish.) Since there are so many people without adequate healthcare in the world, difficult choices have to be made about which countries receive aid. After the screening, a fellow audience member mentioned that he felt sad and angry. I cannot really disagree with him, except to say that I also felt a little hope that there are people like these who are trying to make a difference.

Walter M.
Walter M.

Super Reviewer

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