Dying Young, directed by Joel Schumacher, offers a compelling and convincing anatomy of this universal yearning for intimacy. Hilary O'Neil (Julia Roberts) is a pretty but cautious young woman who has had little luck or fulfillment in either work or love. Victor Gettes (Campbell Scott) is a well-educated, rich, and shy 28 year-old who is dying of leukemia. Much to the dismay of his businessman father, Victor hires Hilary to be his live-in caretaker while he undergoes a nightmarish series of chemotherapy treatments.
At first, Hilary wants to flee from this close encounter with terminal illness but when something clicks inside her, she becomes actively involved with helping Victor get well. When his health improves, they drive to Mendocino and rent a house near the ocean. Gradually the relationship shifts gears until Hilary the employee becomes Victor's partner and the two fall in love. As they get to know each other their mutual longing for intimacy becomes evident.
From the beginning, however, they must struggle to overcome the barriers of class and intellect which threaten to keep them apart. True intimacy, they find, is scary. It demands self-disclosure, sharing the deepest secrets, and trusting one another with their flaws and insecurities.
When Victor first professes his love for Hilary, he admits that he did not feel he could do so when he was sick. Consequently when he gets sick again, he hides it from Hilary, afraid that if she finds out, she will stop loving him.
Hilary, still wincing from a lifetime of humiliations from her domineering mother and betrayal by her last lover, also has a hard time believing she's worthy of another's love. When she catches Victor lying, all her old fears surface.
The closer the couple gets to genuine intimacy, it seems, the more they resort to old tricks of evasion. He succumbs to temper tantrums, and she runs out. The breakthrough comes when Victor and Hilary open their hearts and share their deepest fears. They have experienced joy together. The relationship is cinched when they can also share their pain.
Only in each other's sheltering arms do they move beyond spiritual deprivation. The healing power of love enables them to choose hope over fear in sickness and in health.