My Left Foot

By Anthony Williams

         

My Left Foot is a compelling 1989 film based on the life and autobiography of the late Christy Brown.   In the film, the director Jim Sheridan and lead actor Daniel Day Lewis as well as the rest of the cast and crew brilliantly illustrate many of the everyday trials and tribulations that Christy Brown and other individuals like him have to go through.   The film begins in Crumlin, Dublin, Ireland with the complicated birth of Christy in 1932.   From there the film follows his life all the way into his adulthood and the day when he met his future wife (played by Ruth McCabe.)

            The reviews in reference to the film were overwhelmingly positive.   My Left Foot won a plethora of awards including two Oscars along with another sixteen wins, and in addition was nominated for twelve other awards.   The Oscars that were received for the film included the best actor in a leading role, which was awarded to Daniel Day Lewis, and best actress in a supporting role, which was awarded to Brenda Fricker for the portrayal of Christy's mother.   These accomplishments were definitely a result of the great role played by the actors, as well as the costumes and scenery.   For example, throughout the entire film Daniel Day Lewis, an actor who has complete control of all four of his limbs and loco-motor skills did not once break character by using either his right foot or his arms.   He also had to speak as if he had cerebral palsy and evolve his speech and vocabulary as the story progressed.   My opinion of the film is reflected in the 1989 review by Desson Howe of The Washington Post ; "Not only does Day-Lewis master the physical aspects of the role, the minute-to-minute struggle of almost complete paralysis, he lives the painful genesis of an artistic character" (rotten tomatoes.com)

            Christy Brown was born with a bad case of cerebral palsy that resulted in a lack of control in his speech as well as only having control of one of his limbs, his left foot.   Christy was born into a poor family of a bricklayer and a homemaker who had 13 surviving children out of 23 births.   Just about everyone except for his mother had written him off as mentally retarded and felt that he would not survive to become an adult, but young Christy proved them all wrong.   Not only did he live to the age of 49, but he was also very intelligent and became extremely successful.   Christy Brown was a great author, painter and poet.   His works consist of My Left Foot , Down All the Days , Come Softly to my Wake (Poems of Christy Brown) , A Shadow on Summer , Wild Grow the Lilies and Of Snails And Skylarks.

            Cerebral palsy by definition is an umbrella-like term used to describe a collection of chronic disorders impairing control of movement.   The disorders appear in the first few years of life with 80% of all cases occurring within the first month of life, and generally do not worsen over time.   The expression cerebral refers to the brain's two halves, and palsy describes any disorder that impairs control of body movement.   Therefore, the problem doesn't lie within the muscles or nerves as many believe, but rather faulty development or damage to motor areas in the brain is to blame.   According to the estimates of the United Cerebral Palsy Association, more than 500,000 Americans have cerebral palsy.   This number has remained relatively unchanged for over 30 years despite modern technology's advances in preventing and treating the disorder.   The numbers in this paragraph were provided by the National Institutes of Health.  

            The film starts out with Daniel Day-Lewis taking a record out of its sleeve, placing it on the record player, and then playing the record all with his left foot, a task that is very difficult to accomplish.   After seeing this scene I knew that the film was going to be worth watching.   The film is centered around Christy Brown's first book about himself but it's a story within a story.   In the film Christ is an adult who has written a book and is listening to his future wife read the story of his life.   This story consists of many great scenes, but a few stood out to me.

            The first scene that stood out was when a young Christy had to save his mother's life.   After walking Christy up a flight of stars, his exhausted mother collapses and falls head first down the steps.   Christy hears the calamity and scoots out of his bedroom and down the steps to his silent, motionless mother.   He then scoots out of the house into the almost vacant streets and screams for help until someone comes to his aid.   His mother is eventually taken to the local hospital and rehabilitated to health.

            The next scene that was great in my opinion is the scene that most people thing about when they think of the film in which young Christy first displayed his intellect.   This occurred when Christy took a piece of chalk from his sister with his left foot and with his mother's assistance began writing the letter A.   After showing this learning potential Christy went on to learn the alphabet and to work on other school curriculum.   In doing so he proved to the world that he and other people with disabilities are neither morons nor imbeciles, but people who are just as intelligent as so called "normal people", or their non-disabled peers.

            Another scene that I enjoyed especially was a scene that engaged athleticism, because I have always enjoyed participating in and watching sports.   This scene involved an adolescent Christy participating in a game of soccer with his peers.   At first Christy was just the goalie lying on his side blocking goals with his body, but eventually he was chosen by his opponents to do a penalty kick, Christy booted the ball so hard that the other team's goalie dodged it in fear, resulting in Christy's team winning.   It was feats like these that made possible the Special Olympics.   The Special Olympics is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering individuals with intellectual disabilities to become physically fit, productive and respected members of society through sports training and competition.   The first Special Olympics were held during Christy's life in 1968 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois.   The great tradition still exists to this day.   On a side note, in recent sports news a disabled high school student from New York named Jason played a spectacular game of basketball.   Jason has autism, a disorder that affects social skills and speech.   Until the last game of the season, Jason was just the team manager, but the coach allowed Jason to dress out and play in the second half.   Jason scored 20 points 18 of which cane from 3 point shots, and in his own words he was "hotter than a pistol".

            The director did a great job of showing all sides of Christy's life, even the darker sides.   Throughout the entire film Christy's alcoholism is a prominent issue.   One scene in which his drunkenness got the best of him was at a dinner celebration with Dr. Eileen Cole (played by Fiona Shaw) and her fiancé.   Christy kept drinking glass after glass of liquor even when asked to stop by friends.   He used a lot of vulgar language and even confessed his love for Dr. Cole.   Another scene that portrayed Christy in a dark time of his life was when he attempted suicide by almost throwing himself out of a window.   His mother walked in during the attempt and helped him back to safety.

            The final great scene in my opinion was a bar fight that broke out after Christy's father's death.   Part of Christy's Irish culture was to go to a pub after the death of his father.   While mourning for Mr. Brown, Christy and his drunken family sang loudly and got a bit more rowdy than some of the other people in the bar would have liked.   Christy basically began the fight by kicking (with his left foot) one of the guys in the pub.   This leads to a great big tussle between Christy and his brothers and the other men in the bar.

            There was one main thing about the film that failed to appeal to me: its length.   I feel that some of the scenes were a bit drawn out resulting in the film lasting an hour and forty-three minutes.   Although the director did a good job of throwing in scenes like the bar fight and the soccer scene, the movie did get a bit boring at times.

            The first time I saw the film was at the beginning of this semester in my Kinesiology 487 Activities for Special Populations class.    I chose to do my review over this particular film because I feel that it is a great film as well as a reminder that it is very important, especially for educators, to treat people form all walks of life the same.   Regardless of a person's race religion, social status or if people have a disability or not, we are all human and should be treated with respect.   Dr. Eileen Cole (played by Fiona Shaw) did a great job of treating Christy like an equal human rather than someone who was beneath her.   She helped Christy advance his vocabulary and is eventually able to assist Christy reach his potential.

            To conclude, Christy Brown proved that he was intelligent against a world of critics who have written him off as retarded and helpless.   He becomes a successful painter, poet and author despite his disorder of cerebral palsy.   Christy Brown displayed heroism and fearlessness as he represented people with disabilities everywhere and made it easier for them to be accepted in a society full of prejudice and intolerance.