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Chronic Pain Finds a Place in Hollywood with “Cake”

I had the opportunity to attend an early screening for Jennifer Aniston’s new movie, “Cake,” for which she was nominated for Best Actress by the Golden Globe and SAG Awards.The film, which comes out on Friday, January 23rd, follows one woman’s struggle to adapt to life after a traumatic car accident that left her with chronic back pain. Trailers for the movie show the main character, Claire, taking copious amounts of pain medication to deal with her physical ailment. Members of the chronic pain community, including myself, have been fearful that this movie would further the stigma that pain patients are drug-seekers who don’t work at improving their quality of life. The movie beautifully weaves in the dangers of abusing pain medication while exploring the issues of relationships, grief and self-healing. I believe this movie will help to increase the awareness of the millions who suffer from chronic pain without painting an unfair assumption that everyone in this position acts this way. The movie also forced me to evaluate my own condition in a way that I wasn’t quite ready for.

While the scars on Claire’s face and body hint at the pain she endures, nothing captures it better than Aniston’s performance. She provides an authentic representation of a chronic pain patient. The grunts as she rolls over in bed, the wincing in pain as she opens a door and the overall breathlessness she exudes just from walking were entirely relatable to me. Although I experience a different type of chronic pain, I realize that anyone who lives in pain deals with the same issues regardless of where their pain originates. The movie shows the mundane daily life of a person in pain: the doctor appointments, the endless hours in bed, the need to live in the dark, the feelings of loneliness and despair. It threw me off guard at how closely her actions resembled my own when dealing with a pain flare-up. I caught myself thinking I can go days without showering, I ignore phone calls, I wear loose baggy clothes when I don’t feel well and I can become agitated when the pain overcomes me – all just like Claire.

Claire relies heavily on prescription pain medications to get through her days. She hides pills around the house, she mixes meds with alcohol, she lies to her doctor about her progress to get refills, and she even goes to Tijuana to illegally obtain what she needs in order to deal with life. She placates those around her by telling them what they want to hear in order to get what she needs from them. While these actions could be viewed as stereotypical for a drug addict, the movie forces the audience to feel her pain. Therefore you understand why she goes to such great lengths in order just to make it through the day. Claire is never chasing a “high,” only wanting the pain to go away. I wish for the pain to subside everyday too.

The movie shows the army of people needed to support a pain patient. The doctors, counselors, nurses and physical therapists whose job it is to provide help, but also adding perspective from caregivers who work tirelessly to help a patient manage daily life. Claire’s main caregiver is her housekeeper, Sylvana, who unwillingly enables Claire’s addiction while trying to push her towards healthier choices. A usually quiet woman, Sylvana eventually reaches her breaking point with Claire after she continuously exhibits reckless behaviors. In that moment, I was reminded that the caregiver suffers right along with the patient, a heavy burden for anyone.

The movie tackles the taboo subject of suicide. Claire goes on a quest to understand why a fellow member of her support group chose to end her life of pain, leaving behind a husband and child. She struggles with whether she, too, would be better off ending her misery. Depression is often co-morbid with chronic pain due to the isolating nature of disease. Those with depression have an increased risk of attempting or committing suicide. Claire’s battle with suicidal thoughts and actions show a very real issue experienced by those who are overwhelmed by their condition.

“Cake” shows Claire at her lowest point, rock bottom. I’ve had those moments. I’ve been through the same stages of grief for the loss of friends, loss of career, loss of freedom and loss of identity. Not knowing how or if this would ever get better. There is no fairytale ending, just the hint that Claire is ready to help herself.

Unlike Claire, I have a tremendous support system. How different would my life be if I didn’t have them? It made me sad to think there are those in our community that don’t have that lifeline. For a brief moment I panicked about what would happen if my boyfriend or friends decided my chronic illness was too much for them to handle anymore? Am I unfairly asking too much from them? With tears in my face, I turned to my boyfriend at the end of the movie and simply said, “I’m sorry. And I love you.” I’m sorry that he has to suffer along with me. He squeezed my hand and assured me that we’re in this together. Until you are personally ready to examine your own behaviors and relationship with your chronic pain, don’t go see “Cake.”

In an interview with Aniston shown at the end of this special viewing, she was asked what message she wants the audience to take away. She responded that she wants people to understand and have compassion for those in chronic pain. And she wants people in chronic pain to have hope and to get help when needed. I walked away from this movie feeling like she accomplished these goals through her portrayal of one person’s fight to deal with their pain.

The website for the movie includes a page of support groups for individuals and caregivers dealing with the many issues that are portrayed in the film.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • paindoc
    4 years ago

    The movie brings out the hidden cost of chronic pain, lost relationships. Chronic pain patients including migraine patients are prisoners of seven persons: chronic pain, endless drugs, endless medical bills, Poor sleep, chronic fatigue, chronic depression and lost relationships.
    Google the CHIEF sensory nerve of the BRAIN and migraines and you will find it’s the trigeminal nerve TN, the fifth and largest of the 12 cranial nerves also known as the “migraine generator”.
    The auriculotemporal temporal nerve is a branch of the TN that travels through the back of your TMJoint (jaw joint or temporomandibular joint).
    Sadly if your jaw joint clicks or makes the grating sound it means the protective disc is dislocated in that joint and the CHIEF sensory nerve of the BRAIN the TN (YOUR CONTROL CENTER for the CNS – Central Nervous System) is under assault being crushed between these two bones 100s of times per day/night and no one in the medical/dental world is required to EXAMINE IT, INFORM YOU OR REFER YOU to specially trained dentists who are the only ones trained to increase the height of the teeth temporarily with a CUSTOM orthotic to PROVE they can stop the PAIN FROM RECURRING, before PERMANENTLY altering the teeth (support pillars in the skeleton of the head) to PREVENT the PAIN from returning.
    Imagine the number of CNS disorders that could be PREVENTED if a LIFETIME of daily assaults was prevented/eliminated.

  • deejaye
    4 years ago

    Hi! Thanks so much for writing about this. I don’t have much of a support system either. It seems the small one I have would rather I not talk about my multiple chronic pain issues, chronic migraine included. I have lost many friends due to my inability to follow through on plans. I do intend to see this movie. I think it might be a good one for my husband to see with me because even he tends to back away, physically and emotionally, when it comes to supporting me through this. Thanks again for the wonderful review of this movie. It makes me want to see it even more.

  • Mardie Crucchiola
    4 years ago

    Hi ! I hear you all the way. I too have become very isolated from everyone. I have lived with migraines for about 30 years. I saw the movie and it all hit home except I’ve never taken the narcotics but I was definitely taken the OTC medicines till they stopped working. Up until 8 months ago I was taking the imitrex daily. My dr said I was having chronic headaches because of the imitrex. I went off the imitrex cold turkey, but only to find myself taking the excederin w/ caffeine no more than a month later. I thought it was great because I didn’t have to take the imitrex to relieve a headache and the excederin was working. I recently lost my dad,a few months later my mom,and then my daughter of 38 lost her first baby. In September my headaches got so bad i was taking all kinds of OTC medicines just to get through my days work. I soon had to quit my job of 9 years,I couldn’t do it anymore. My frustration with seeing my old drs thinking they would do something about the pain in my head, again cold turkey off all the OTC meds was really hard to suffer through the holidays all alone. My mom died thinking i didn’t have to suffer anymore with headaches,and that I’m grateful for. I sure miss her,I feel all alone in this migraine world. I too can relate to everyone that doesn’t want to suffer. My dr has been no help. I don’t know what to do anymore. I’ve tried everything under the sun in home remedies. I’ve given up everything that’s bad for you. I watch a migraine diet, and I’m
    still in pain. When the pain is here all I can do is cry and want to end my misery. I just want to end this pain. This isn’t quality of life when your afraid to go outside anymore. I’m sorry I’m going on but I feel helpless. I wish I could hire a caregiver to be with me sometimes at least i would know somebody cared. I loved the movie,even though it left me so sad.

  • MigraMom1
    4 years ago

    As a chronic pain sufferer from both back *and* migraine pain, I completely commiserated with both the author and the new movie “Cake”… after reading merely one paragraph or so, I suddenly burst into tears, realizing that the severity of our pain issues will be brought to light in the movie, and the helpless feelings of frustration of trying to kill the pain, instead of ourselves, is the focus…
    I’ve had so many bouts of pain from both my migraines and back pain that I’ve wanted to just disappear, but I have a daughter who needs me, a boyfriend who loves me, some very good friends, and the memory of my late mother and her words “This too shall pass” ringing in my ears, so I’ve persevered. I don’t want to hurt them by hurting myself. I am trying alternative means of pain relief, and also this website has been so helpful in giving me hope and seeing others who also have pain issues, so I don’t feel so alone. I will go see this movie… it will be tough, but I’m sure there will be a certain amount of catharsis and will leave me feeling inspired.

  • cancan
    4 years ago

    I am petrified to see this movie although I probably will.
    I don’t have the support I need so badly. I have a wonderful husband who keeps saying, I don’t know what to do for you…after being married almost 55 years. I am tired of so many doctors, pills, trying to live correctly, since I was 3 years old, I am 75 now. I am on the brink of ending it all…I have had enough. My husband says, one or two more doctors… takes so much effort to get ready to go. I just lost my brother, who was the only one who really understood me and was my emotional support. All the others who supported me have passed away. My children are too busy to try to understand….maybe, just maybe they would understand if they see “Cake”. I know I will bawl my eyes out, all I do anymore is cry. My Chihuahua, Pixie, comes running when she hears me crying, she is my support!!! Thanks for writing this Katie, maybe there is a little hope left from these horrible ultra CRONIC migraines!!!! Sincerely, Carolyn

  • Katie M. Golden moderator author
    4 years ago

    I’m so sorry you’re going through this. All too often those with chronic disease don’t have the support system they need. I’ve always believed that sharing articles or stories from a third-party helps validate what loved ones have been trying to tell them about their disease. This movie will absolutely open their eyes.

    I’m glad that you’ve found and hope it helps you in the bad times!
    -Katie Moderator

  • Lisa Robin Benson moderator
    4 years ago

    Hi Carolyn,
    I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your brother. I know what it is like to have that special person in your life that just “gets” it and it must be devastating to lose that person. Thank you for reaching out and participating here. I do believe there is hope. I know people in the migraine community who have been suffering badly for years and do finally find something that helps them after years of persistence. Your husband sounds amazingly caring and he I’m glad he is encouraging you to keep on the search. It can be hard for them if they feel helpless to ease our pain. I read an article recently on here about getting through to your romantic partner. Boy do I wish I could have read this years ago! It really spoke to me and I thought I would share:

    I feel the need to say, if you are ever feeling the need to end it all, please seek help for yourself immediately. Here are two resources just in case:

    If you are in need of any more resources, please feel free to reach out any time. We are all here for each other and there are so many people on here who understand the pain of chronic migraines!

    Be well,

  • Doug
    4 years ago

    I really need to see this right now. I’ve been having a tough couple of weeks with pain. Apparently only 1 theatre in my city is showing it out of dozens. Going to have to drive almost a half hour away to see it.

  • Lisa Robin Benson moderator
    4 years ago

    Hope the drive is worth it Doug and you enjoy the film. I have to check and see where I can see it in my area, too! -Lisa

  • Lisa Robin Benson moderator
    4 years ago

    Hi Katie,

    Thank you for writing this heartfelt review. I am anxiously awaiting when I can go see “Cake.” I too, wonder what my life would have been like without the wonderful support system I have. That’s partly why I try to support others in the community. I will write more once I’ve seen the film.


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