My Left Foot (1989)
Release Date: November 10th, 1989 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Jim Sheridan Actors: Daniel Day-Lewis, Brenda Fricker, Alison Whelan, Kirsten Sheridan, Cyril Cusack, Fiona Shaw, Ray McAnally, Hugh O’Conor, Marie Conmee
ith a title like “My Left Foot,” and the opening scene of a left foot successfully performing a task many would find essentially impossible to do, it’s easy to figure out where the story is headed. It is, in fact, based on the extraordinary life of Christy Brown, a man forced to conduct regular routines and activities against incredible adversity. Not only is he unable to communicate efficiently, but he also has sharp faculties trapped in a body afflicted by staggering immobility – with movements limited to little more than a single functioning appendage.
Like the more recent endeavors of “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” or “The Theory of Everything” (or, in many regards, “Rain Man”), “My Left Foot” explores the exceptional achievements made possible by hard work and determination, even with agonizing disabilities that would be unthinkable to people who take average capabilities for granted. Here, an undeterred spirit can win out, against all odds. And, with certain relish, this specific hardship inspires attainments beyond what many people seek out – perhaps contrastingly encumbered by absolute normalcy.
As a young boy in Ireland, Christy Brown (Hugh O’Conor) has severe developmental restrictions, with cerebral palsy preventing even the most basic functions, such as eating, walking, and speaking. He’s literally slung over a shoulder in order to be transported from room to room, or perched in a makeshift wheelbarrow/cart to be pushed to and fro. But, when his mother (Brenda Fricker) falls down the stairs, he manages to signal the neighbor for help by thumping loudly on the front door with his left foot, the only faithfully functioning extremity at his disposal. As he grows up, Christy is mostly ignored in the house, as his large family doesn’t have much confidence in his ability to learn or in his potential for a future, though they slowly begin to realize that his brain functions comparably to everyone else; his paralytic condition only affects physical operations.
As with any tale of phenomenal noteworthiness, Christy doesn’t just have to overcome the detriment of cerebral palsy; he also faces extreme poverty, a stern father (Ray McAnally), ostracism from peers, familial tragedies, and the pains of romantic rejections. But he’s also blessed with a surprisingly strong mother and a generous doctor (Fiona Shaw), who refuse to give up on him (though, understandably, there’s a certain fear in hope, as it could increase the frustrations of failure). This leads to some outstanding moments of emotional gravity, including a boisterous dinner party fiasco and a suicide attempt. Intermixed with each trial is a great irony in Christy’s understanding and immersion in religious edicts, particularly as he’s cursed with such spiritually inexplicable disadvantages. “You can never get out of Hell,” insists a priest, attempting to coach the boy in righteousness. Yet Christy is in a certain type of hell that many could never appreciate, even while witnessing this biography of his sensational ups and downs.
Although a touch overlong, the story is consistently eye-opening, moving, and utterly engaging. It’s small and intimate, and a biographical account that capitalizes on the indefatigability of the human spirit, showcasing the struggles and the triumphs of creativity in a singular, assuredly soul-crushing isolation that takes profound strength to confront. Plus, Daniel Day-Lewis as the adult version of Christy gives a wholehearted, painstaking, convincing performance in an Oscar-winning role.
– Mike Massie