Monday 25 June 2012

Movie Review: The Intouchables (plus thoughts on life-altering events)

This French movie is based on a true story. In 1993, Philippe Pozzo di Borgo, director of one of the world's most celebrated champagne houses, receives the horrible news that his wife has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Shortly afterwards, he suffers a tragic accident while paragliding and is left a quadriplegic. His wife dies in 1996 leaving Philippe alone to carry on living completely dependent on his caregivers to sustain his existence.

The story recounted in the film is later when Philippe, interviewing for a new caregiver, hires a most unorthodox caregiver who turns out to be something of a ne'er-do-well. From opposite ends of the social spectrum, the two men develop an interesting rapport, one where a quadriplegic sees his interest in living renewed and a part-time criminal given a chance to make himself a better man.

Philippe published his story in the 2001 book "The Second Wind" upon which the film is based.

From a purely technical perspective, the cinematography, the acting, the screenplay, etc., The Intouchables is a good film with Rotten Tomatoes giving it a respectable score of 77%. It's not a great film, but a good one. However the subject matter itself is something which certainly brings a fascination to the entire opus. We have all had our accidents, a broken leg, a dislocated shoulder and what not, but always with the idea that in time, we will heal and return to normal life. Others may even have something more tragic such as the permanent loss of a finger or perhaps part of a limb. Here, we are talking about a quadriplegic, a person who feels nothing from the neck down and who has lost all control of his voluntary muscles from the neck down. The person is one hundred percent dependant on others to live and the condition is permanent. I referred in the title of this article to a "life-altering" event but I would say that becoming quadriplegic merits "life-shattering".

A personal story
In my blog, I have written of the worst sports injury I have ever suffered in my entire life which traumatized my left shoulder and arm and left me with a herniated cervical disk and a pinched nerve. Pain is an on-going problem and managing it a daily concern. The remedial course of action is physiotherapy and the prognosis is six months to a year. However, as progress is extremely slow, I have no idea what permanent problem I may have to deal with for the rest of my life. The prospect, to say the least, is worrisome if not frightening.

In light of this very personal problem, the story of the film hit home for me. In one brief moment your life is inextricably changed and from that point onwards how you live is very very different. Of course, I'm not quadriplegic. My condition supposedly will improve. At least I have hope that it will improve. Nevertheless, having to put up with pain twenty-four by seven, seeing my mobility restricted and my quality of life greatly reduced, I could not just sympathize but empathize with the plight of the protagonist. I'm not there; I'm not even close to being there but I now have a greater understanding for those who suffer not just from pain, but from having to accept an irrevocable change in their life and I mean a change for the worse.

Whose life is this anyway?
This 1981 film starring Richard Dryfuss is about Ken Harrison, an artist, a sculptor, a man full of life and promise whose entire life is cut short by a car accident which leaves him quadriplegic. Unlike The Intouchables, this man needs not just care but life support. The story is about Ken coming to understand his plight and his decision to end his life. The big question is about quality of life versus quantity of life and whether anyone should have the right to die. In the end, he wins his court case but his win means he only asks to be removed from life support; he does not ask anyone to actually kill him.

Stephen Hawking
This world famous intellect suffers from ALS, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis known in North America as Lou Gehrig's disease. This progressive neurodegenerative disease attacks nerve cells and leads to the progressive degeneration of the motor neurons eventually leaving the patient paralyzed.

Despite his condition, Mr. Hawking leads a productive life. He has been married several times and fathered several children. If you don't see a picture of him, what would you think? He's a man, an accomplished intellect and a famous one at that.

Philippe Pozzo di Borgo
What comes after the film is also interesting. Philippe remarries and has three children. In reflecting on this gentleman and Stephen Hawking, I, like probably most people, would wonder about the mechanics of a quadriplegic having children. Certainly reflecting on life in general, a life which is completely dependent on caregivers, would make one wonder about the quality of life. Obviously one can adjust. Can the human being adjust to anything, even being imprisoned in his own body? Does the will to live push us on to endure anything?

However, I return to Ken Harrison of the film "Whose life is it anyway?" who decides to die. In that film, the protagonist describes the idea of having something then losing it and living with the knowledge of once having it and never being able to have it again as being unbearable. Is it easier to have never had sight then go blind? Is it easier to have always been in a wheelchair then to lose the use of one's legs? Ken Harrison decided to die. Stephen Hawking and Philippe Pozzo di Borgo continue. Is it all relative? Is each case different?

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
If quadriplegic isn't life-shattering enough, I must make mention of the 2007 biographical drama based on the memoire of Jean-Dominique Bauby who suffered a massive stroke which left him with a condition known as locked-in syndrome. The patient is aware and awake but cannot move or communicate verbally due to complete paralysis of nearly all voluntary muscles in the body except for the eyes. (Wikipedia) Bauby developed a method of communication by blinking his left eye. Yes, you heard me correctly. (As an aside, this film was an excellent film with a rating of 93% on Rotten Tomatoes.)

Final Word
I am always amused watching a French film with subtitles. Speaking some French, I get torn between listening to the dialogue and reading the subtitles. Somehow doing both gets the flavour of the film mixed up. When I use the word "flavour", I mean that listening to a French film in French without any subtitles has a certain (I'm going to regret saying this) je ne sais quoi. Of course I'm getting progressively rustier so subtitles are probably a good thing. Damn, do native speakers talk fast or what? Ha ha. Then again, I've always joked that my problem wasn't that people spoke too fast; my problem was that I listened too slowly.

This is a good film. But more importantly, it is a thought-provoking film. As I said, it may be more thought-provoking for me because of my recent accident but there may be others who have been personally touched by similar events whether themselves, a member of their family or a friend. The will to live can be a strong one but as the film shows, inspiration in the form of an inspiring person can change a life.


Rotten Tomatoes: The Intouchables: 77%
It handles its potentially prickly subject matter with kid gloves, but Intouchables gets by thanks to its strong cast and some remarkably sensitive direction.

Wikipedia: The Intouchables
The Intouchables (French: Intouchables, which translates literally as Untouchable) is a French film directed by Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano. In just nine weeks after its release in France on 2 November 2011 it became the second most successful French film of all time (in number of viewers) in the French box office, behind the 2008 film Welcome to the Sticks.

Wikipédia: Philippe Pozzo di Borgo
Philippe Pozzo di Borgo, né le 14 février 1951, est un homme d'affaires français. Devenu tétraplégique en 1993, à la suite d'un accident de parapente, il a raconté son expérience et son retour à la vie dans un livre, Le Second Souffle. Son histoire, ainsi que sa relation avec son auxiliaire de vie, Abdel Yasmin Sellou, ont inspiré par la suite le film Intouchables.

[Philippe Pozzo di Borgo, born February 14, 1951, is a French businessman. Having become quadriplegic in 1993 following a paragliding accident, he recounted his experiences and his return to life in a book, The Second Wind. His story, and his relationship with his caregiver, Yasmin Abdel Sellou, inspired the film The Untouchables.]

Wikipedia: Whose Life Is It Anyway? (1981 film)
Whose Life Is It Anyway? is a 1981 film adapted by Brian Clark and Reginald Rose of the 1972 television movie and play of the same title.

Richard Dreyfuss plays sculptor Ken Harrison, a quadriplegic who sues for the right to end his life. Bob Balaban plays a lawyer who helps Harrison while knowing that he is trying to win his client a death sentence; John Cassavetes plays Dr. Emerson, who is determined to keep his patient alive even against his wishes; and Christine Lahti plays Clare Scott, a doctor who falls in love with Harrison.

Wikipedia: Stephen Hawking
Stephen William Hawking, CH, CBE, FRS, FRSA (born 8 January 1942) is a British theoretical physicist, and author. His key scientific works to date have included providing, with Roger Penrose, theorems regarding the occurrence of gravitational singularities in the framework of general relativity, and the theoretical prediction that black holes should emit radiation, which is today known as Hawking radiation (or sometimes as Bekenstein–Hawking radiation).

Wikipedia: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (film)
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (French: Le scaphandre et le papillon) is a 2007 biographical drama film based on Jean-Dominique Bauby's memoir of the same name. The film depicts Bauby's life after suffering a massive stroke, on December 8, 1995, at the age of 43, which left him with a condition known as locked-in syndrome. The condition paralyzed him from the neck down. Although both eyes worked, doctors decided to sew up his right eye as it was not irrigating properly and they were worried that it would become infected. He was left with only his left eye and the only way that he could communicate was by blinking his left eyelid.

my blog: Health: Learning more than I really wanted to
Will the Cisco Kid ride again? Hell, right now I would be ecstatic to be able to stroll around the block without feeling tingling, numbness or pain. It's surprising how your expectations change. Jog? Exercise? Parachute out of a plane? I'd be grateful just to be able to walk comfortably. Yep, have almost everything taken away to appreciate the little things in life.


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