Imagine being confronted by a life of bed-ridden confinement, unable to move or even to inhale your own life-sustaining breath. Add to that the frustration and despondency brought on by an unfeeling health care system that insists upon regimented institutionalization as the only way to address your condition. And, to make matters worse, you’re young and just beginning what’s supposed to be a happy and fulfilling time with the love of your life. If you can picture that, you have an idea of what it’s like to be the protagonist of the new, fact-based drama, “Breathe” (web site, trailer).
In 1958 England, tea broker Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield) had just met the woman of his dreams, the fair and beautiful Diana (Claire Foy). Despite Diana’s reputation for being something of a heartbreaker, Robin knew that she would one day become his wife. And Diana, despite her sometimes-fickle nature, felt the same way about her new beau. It truly was love at first sight.
Before long, Robin and Diana were inseparable, even when he would embark on his travels to the wilds of Kenya in search of new tea stocks. Their African adventures together set the tone for the life adventure they envisioned sharing, one that soon included the addition of a child on the way. But, just as life seemed to be growing ever more fulfilling, Robin was suddenly struck down with polio, the crippling effects of which left him paralyzed and unable to breathe without a respirator. And, despite his youthful vigor, his prognosis was not good – perhaps several months at most, and all of it confined to a hospital bed.
Initially unable to speak and embarrassed by his depleted overall condition, Robin quickly fell into a deep depression, wishing to see no one, including Diana and his newborn son, Jonathan. In fact, he sincerely wanted to die rather than live the way he was, especially since his doctors told him that he’d likely be spending the remainder of his waning days in a hospital ward with other afflicted patients. But, Robin’s despondency notwithstanding, Diana would have none of it. Rather than resign herself to the same kinds of circumstances her husband seemed so ready to embrace, she pointedly asked him what it would take to make him happy so that he would be willing to keep on living. To that, he replied that he simply wanted to go home, a wish that Diana began working on making happen.
When Diana and Robin announced their plans to the medical staff, physicians like the condescending Dr. Entwistle (Jonathan Hyde) labeled their plan foolhardy at best. However, the ever-resourceful Mrs. Cavendish set her mind to bringing her husband home, and Robin soon began leading a comparatively comfortable life in a homey residential setting.
Once relocated, Robin’s spirits improved markedly, and his condition stabilized. He lasted far longer than the several months initially projected, clearly defying the odds. He enjoyed a loving relationship with Diana and had the pleasure of watching Jonathan grow up. And, all the while, he was in the company of many friends, such as his lifelong chum Colin (Edward Speleers), the ever-cheerful, ever-colorful Blacker twins, David and Bloggs (Tom Hollander), and his clever, inventive colleague, Dr. Teddy Hall (Hugh Bonneville), all of whom believed that it was possible for Robin to enjoy an even fuller life than the one he was now leading.
As an amateur inventor and tinkerer, Teddy looked for ways to help make Robin’s life more mobile, an accomplishment he achieved by fashioning a specialized wheelchair fitted with a built-in respirator. With that, Robin was no longer restricted to his bed. He was able to go outside and sit in his garden, as well as take long, leisurely country drives with the family. At one point, he was even able to take trips to Spain and Germany. Not bad for someone who once faced permanent confinement.
Robin’s expanded mobility eventually led him to become the face of a new cause, one aimed at promoting better lifestyles for other patients similarly afflicted. With the backing of an enthusiastic physician, Dr. Clement Aitken (Stephen Mangan), and the philanthropic support of a wealthy benefactress, Lady Neville (Diana Rigg), Robin helped secure similar chairs for other severely paralyzed patients, enabling them to enjoy the same kind of freedom he had now been basking in for years. It gave him a purpose, not just for himself, but for others, something that no doubt contributed to the decades-long longevity he experienced after initially becoming infected.
The story of Robin and Diana Cavendish inspiringly illustrates what it means to push through barriers and defy limitations. It also shows what can come from collective efforts, when everyone pulls together for the benefit and betterment of others. But, most of all, it shines a light on the power of love and what it can prompt when tapped and employed for a higher purpose. It’s almost enough to take one’s breath away.
However, while “Breathe” is certainly inspiring, noble and sincere in its intents, this somewhat overlong offering falls prey to the traps of schmaltz, manipulation and formula (at times bordering on cliché, especially in its soundtrack and cinematography). Admittedly, the film does tend to get better as it goes along (save for its drawn-out concluding segment) and features capable performances by Garfield and Foy, who clearly make this material look better than it really is. However, despite these strengths, much of the film seems rather familiar and plays more like a made-for-TV movie than a theatrical release. You’ll certainly come away from director Andy Serkis’s debut outing feeling inspired and uplifted, but don’t be surprised if you feel just a little cinematically unfulfilled by this one.
A complete review will be available in the near future by clicking here.
On the Radio This Week
The Movies with Meaning segment on Frankiesense & More radio with host Frankie Picasso that was slated for earlier this month has now been rescheduled for this Thursday, October 26 at 1 pm ET. I’ll join Frankie for the entire show to talk about my new book, Third Real: Conscious Creation Goes Back to the Movies (ISBN 978-1976207501), as well as a number of inspiring new film releases. Be sure to tune in for some lively movie talk!
Third Real Featured on Pop Expresso and Book Sites!
I’m thrilled to announce that my new book, Third Real: Conscious Creation Goes Back to the Movies, has been featured in the book review section of the entertainment and popular culture web site Pop Expresso. Check out the review by clicking here.
In addition, Third Real is also now listed several book-related social network sites, including GoodReads, BookDaily and LibraryThing. And those ebook editions are on their way, too! Copies will be available shortly from Kobo Books (including through its inventive Kobo Plus program) and from Barnes & Noble’s Nook Store, with additional editions to follow from Amazon’s Kindle Store and the iTunes Store.
The Best of Movies with Meaning – “Denial”
Truth – its power is formidable and undeniable, no matter how difficult it may be to face. We rely on it to anchor ourselves in our worldview and, when needed, to justify our convictions about it. But what happens when truth comes under attack from critics who claim that our contentions are flawed, faulty or downright false, despite the evidence? Also, what happens when others insist that our criticism of such detractors is misplaced, unfair or perhaps even criminal? When we’re pushed to the wall to defend ourselves and our positions, we find out what it means to become champions of truth, a notion explored in the historically based courtroom drama, “Denial” (web site, trailer), available on DVD, Blu-ray Disc and video on demand.
Based on the acclaimed book Denial: Holocaust History on Trial, the film recounts the experience of Prof. Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) in her legal battle against David Irving (Timothy Spall), an often-criticized historian who accused Lipstadt of libel when she labeled him a Holocaust denier in her writing. Realizing that his case was on shaky ground, Irving eschewed the American courts – Lipstadt’s home jurisdiction – deciding to sue his opponent through the English legal system, which abides by a different standard than in the US. According to the tenets of English law, the burden of proof in libel cases rests with the defendant, not the plaintiff. Therefore, it was up to Lipstadt and her legal team, led by barrister Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson), to prove Irving’s claim wrong, as well as the essential truth that the Holocaust occurred.
The film follows the process that Lipstadt, Rampton and their legal team took in matching wits with Irving. Their strategy included an emotional investigatory visit to Auschwitz (a painful experience for Lipstadt, herself a Jew), as well as some inventive legal maneuvering to circumvent Irving’s clever ploys (often involving moves frustrating for the defendant, given that they frequently went against her principles – and her innermost feelings).
As the film aptly illustrates, getting at the truth sometimes proves more difficult than many of us might assume, no matter how seemingly self-evident it might appear. Yet, ultimately, it must prevail, no matter what it means to make it known. This picture shows us how.
“Denial” is a capably made fact-based drama that appears to adeptly get the story down by the book. Its performances are superb, particularly Spall and Wilkinson, both of whom deserved, but were overlooked, for awards consideration. However, despite the picture’s legal exactitude, the film also leaves viewers surprisingly emotionally unengaged, a somewhat perplexing outcome given the highly charged nature of the subject matter. Even though the courtroom debate at the heart of this story is more about forensics than emotions, that theme pervades the film so much that “Denial” at times feels more clinical than involving. Enjoy the portrayals, be awed by the moving visit to Auschwitz (one of the few emotionally impactful sequences in the film) and draw inspiration from the principals’ determination to establish the truth, but don’t be surprised if this offering comes up a little short in other regards.
As Shakespeare so astutely wrote in The Merchant of Venice, the “truth will out” in the long run. Getting to it may prove more challenging than anticipated, but it’s a force to be reckoned with – especially for those who would dare deny it.
Copyright © 2017, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.