Bigger Than Life
is an American film made in 1956 directed by Nicholas Ray
and starring James Mason
, who also co-wrote and produced the film, about a school teacher and family man whose life spins out of control upon becoming addicted to cortisone
. The film co-stars Barbara Rush
as his wife and Walter Matthau
as his closest friend, a fellow teacher. Though it was a box-office flop upon its initial release, many modern critics hail it as a masterpiece and a brilliant indictment of the conformist 1950s suburbia.
Schoolteacher and family man Ed Avery, who has been suffering bouts of severe pain and even blackouts, is hospitalized with what's diagnosed as a rare inflammation of the arteries. Told by doctors that he probably has only months to live, Ed agrees to an experimental treatment: doses of the hormone cortisone.
Ed makes a remarkable recovery. He returns home to his wife, Lou, and their son, Richie. He must keep taking cortisone tablets regularly to prevent a recurrence of his illness. But the "miracle" cure turns into its own nightmare as Ed starts to abuse the tablets, causing him to experience increasingly wild mood swings and, ultimately, a psychotic episode that threatens the safety of his family.