Cake

The “Cake” of the title refers to the homemade birthday cake a chronic pain sufferer named Nina wanted to make for her young son, representing her wish for a normal life and the physical abilities she used to have. A member of her support group, Claire, scoffed at her idea as being overly sentimental, but when Nina commits suicide by jumping off a highway overpass, Claire can’t stop thinking about it and visualizing her own suicide. Nina begins visiting Claire’s heavily medicated dreams as an almost demonic figure, tempting and criticizing her by turns.

But the cake is a lie; it does not accurately depict the financial straits most people with chronic pain encounter when they’re no longer able to work. As a former lawyer, Claire can seemingly afford to pay for a housekeeper to keep her place clean, prepare food, and occasionally drive her to Tijuana for illicit pain medication smuggled back into the U.S. in a hollow statue of St. Jude. Though she gets stopped at the border once, a quick phone call to her lawyer ex-husband takes care of it. She doesn’t seem to require public benefits and never seems to fight with her insurance company, though her doctor and physical therapists are starting to tire of her lack of progress.

At the ending, Cake appears to draw the conclusion that a chronic pain sufferer merely needs to deal with their grief and trauma to have their physical condition improve, but that’s demonstrably false. Many chronic pain conditions have their root in auto-immune and other diseases which have no emotional cause. It’s irresponsible to lead the public to believe that all that needs to be done is “get over it”.

Planet of Snail

Planet of Snail is a glimpse into the unique relationship of deaf and blind Young-Chan and his wife Soon-Ho, who has a spinal disability and shortened stature. The two navigate life’s challenges (such as the hour-long changing of a light bulb) together with an astonishing level of communication and trust. Soon-Ho interprets the outside world for Young-Chan, communicating using finger Braille and adapted computers, while Young-Chan treats Soon-Ho’s debilitating pain with acupuncture.

Unusually for disability documentaries, little mention is made of how the couple support themselves, though Young-Chan is seen entering essay contests and the pair coaches aspiring actors in appearing to be deaf and blind. Young-Chan also writes and directs a play for his church group, but only a snippet is shown. He also makes small sculptures for the amusement of his deaf-blind friends, one of which depicts a man using a chamber pot.

Some of Young-Chan’s friends express jealousy over their relationship as Young-Chan has “full time care”, but Young-Chan is adamant that isn’t why he married her. But the remark clearly stings; Young-Chan later decides to do some errands on his own just to keep his skills sharp, while Soon-Ho spends the day at home alone. Though he returns safely, having proved he’s still able to navigate, Young-Chan immediately comforts Soon-Ho for her hours of loneliness. Therein lies the real bond between the two; the understanding and acceptance.