This is a delightful film about the friendship between a 24-year-old man with cerebral palsy called Michael, and maverick Rory, who can move only his right hand. The two young men meet in Carrigmore Residential Home and together they outwit the system, setting themselves up in a flat and employing the beautiful Siobhán as their personal assistant.
The struggle for independent living is excellently portrayed in this ground-breaking film that won the prestigious Audience Award at the Edinburgh Film Festival 2004. There are lovely scenes of Dublin and many hilarious moments. I will not spoil your visit by telling you too much about the story. This film is well worth a visit and contains many sobering lessons for all of us who are in any way associated with the world of disabilities.
Hopefully, many people not usually associated with disability will also see this film.
Cinema is a powerful art form and a ghetto-like attendance would defeat this wonderful opportunity to understand and to learn about the realities of life for people with disabilities. It is an opportunity to appreciate the innumerable barriers to be overcome in the pursuit of an independent, normal, day-to-day life.
The following is a brief insight and overview of some key points emerging from this entertaining and well-acted film.
Communication, integration and peer support
Rory understands Michael’s speech because he had sat beside somebody like him during his school days. Michael comes to life when there is somebody who actually understands what he is saying. Their personalities are so strong that the viewer does not notice their disabilities by the end of the movie. Their fellow residents can only use their eyes to express themselves, illustrating the vast untapped potential that must exist in all these situations.
Matron (Brenda Fricker) and her staff are sure that Michael and Rory are going to fail in their new, independent living arrangements. Their ‘won’t-be-able-to-live-without-us’ attitude is tangible. Basically, the staff are kind and caring people, but the very fact that they are in control of other people’s lives puts them on a par with dictators, from the resident’s perspective. The move to independent living is outside that control and is due to the actions of the young men themselves. There is no evidence of any attempts on the part of the nursing home to encourage or initiate independent living.
In a kindly way, this film illustrates what the need for order and routine can impose on people. The staff did their best; they just did not fully understand the individuality and needs of their residents, so cleverly illustrated in the hairstyling scene.
The Independence Allowance Board in the film, though well meaning, are none-the-less judgmental and conservative in their attitude to Rory and Michael’s request for an independent living allowance.
Training and education for personal assistants
Personal assistant training in nursing tasks, professional distance and household routines are highlighted as well as the need for total focus on the person in their care. However, when these scenes are juxtaposed against the nursing home scenes, it begs the question—can over-training make people more institutionalised??
Michael has to work at overcoming his own lose of security with the loss of the institution. This film also illustrates how easily an ordinary home/house can become institutionalised once there is a mindset seeking routines and systems for other people.
The Parent Factor
Tom Hickey and Gerard Mc Sorley brilliantly portray the two fathers who are both alone. Acceptance, rejection, neglect, warmth, caring, and sibling rivalry—the entire spectrum is touched on. This highlights some very interesting angles—Are Rory’s excellent initiative and assertion skills due to the fact that his Dad accepts things as they are and speaks to him like an equal? Michael’s father illustrates his own sense of inadequacy and social ambition in his attitude to his son. The fact that he is wealthy is subtly reflected in the attitude of the staff in the nursing home. The ability of both young men to outwit Michel’s father and to get what they want is wonderfully done. However, their specially adapted house is not exactly located in an area that reflects Michael’s father’s own social standing.
The entire film is about the right to be ordinary, to go drinking and clubbing, to be arrested and even to contemplate suicide (Liffey bridges do not facilitate wheelchairs for this purpose!)
THIS FILM IS ABOUT THE RIGHT OF EVERYONE TO CONTROL HIS/HER OWN LIFE.
People with Intellectual Disabilities.
So, I hear you say, what is the message for people with intellectual disabilities who may not manage to outwit the system as adroitly as Michael and Rory? Perhaps this film highlights the pivotal role of the advocate. .
- The importance of getting it right.
- The importance of empowering the person with intellectual disabilities and fighting the system (when necessary) in partnership with him/her.
For those of us who find themselves members of that system, this film contains many sobering lessons in the need to
- Accept each person just as they are
- Refrain from pre-judging a person because of their punk hairstyle
- Negotiate with sensitivity that narrow line between the necessity for safety, protection and care and the right to personal freedom and independence.
- Keep focusing on the humour, the fun and the joy in just being alive.
I promise you – this film is very well worth the visit.