My Left Foot: The Story of Christy Brown (1989)
Christy Brown: I need a light.
Mary Carr: Don’t go thinking I’m your mother now, just ‘cause I’m takin’ care of ya.
Christy Brown: I don’t need a [expletive] psychology lesson. Just get me a [expletive] light.
Daniel Day Lewis plays Christy Brown as a man who is held together by his sheer will to survive. Early on, when his mother has a heart attack Christy drops down from the bed where he was placed by his mom, scrapes his way down the stairs and bangs on the door with his left foot. This tenacity endures all throughout the film, into his later adult life, when he’s played by Daniel Day Lewis. Even though throughout his childhood he’s called a dunce and a burden by adults. Surprisingly, like me, he gets along well with able-bodied children, enjoys football, and even for a time rides in a cart for lack of a wheelchair until his 18th birthday.
Obviously, as a person with CP myself, I identified with much in this film. I never took speech therapy, but little things like Christy’s artistic impulses I deeply identified with, as well as his search for intimacy. I suppose sometimes I’m even difficult to understand due to my slight tongue thrust. I suppose what I’m getting at is I don’t agree with the idea that able-bodied actors shouldn’t play disabled characters. If I can’t tell the difference, I don’t see how anyone else could.
Indeed, one of the things I really like about this movie is that it’s not played for sympathy. From the moment he grabs a piece of chalk in his left foot as a child, Christy displays a stubbornness that allows him to overcome his disability as well as display a deep intelligence behind the stubbornness. Later, he enters speech therapy (At first, so that he can impress his good-looking therapist…) but they fall out when…in a powerful scene…she announces she’s getting married. He doesn’t handle this well.
You see, Christy Brown seems to have inherited his father’s love of drink as a coping mechanism, and does not take this very lightly. While they were supposed to be celebrating opening his exhibition, Christy instead launches a tirade against platonic love. The only love he’s ever gotten. Also, his family tries to build him a new art studio, in the hopes that he’ll become motivated to paint again and come out of his depression. Which ultimately culminates in a bar fight, and of course the opening of the exhibition where he meets Mary, who we are later informed Christy married in 1972.
Daniel Day Lewis’s portrayal of the adult Christy really makes this a good “disability” movie. Christy always aims to prove people wrong about his limits, even if it is to spite them. He first tells his therapist to “[expletive] off!” but she tells him that with therapy he could learn to say it more clearly. But, I think also, his rhetoric and art reveal a deep striving and human understanding which lie beneath his stubbornness. Christy always had to prove people wrong…he also strove to connect with them…though not always successfully.
Overall, it’s a great film. It is inspiring, but not in a way that inspires pity…which is what I suspect is what most people mean when nowadays people say “I’m not here to inspire you.” in connection with the disability rights movement. Of course, I’m here to inspire people. I’m just not here to be pitied. We as humans must continually strive to inspire ourselves to keep living; to make life meaningful. Which is I think what Christy Brown does in this movie…both with his painting, and continual self-improvement.
I mean, he learns to crawl with his foot, then to grab things, then to speak…this is a story of continual overcoming, but a realistic one…full of rejection and hope deferred. 5/5 stars from me! I fully support able-bodied actors playing disabled characters! (And think the modern controversy…is to be blunt…ridiculous.) I don’t think you could’ve gotten a better Christy Brown. I think all disability advocates should see this! Or if you just like great movies!