The Patience Stone

Set in an unnamed war-torn country assumed to be Afghanistan, The Patience Stone follows the story of an equally unnamed man and woman as he becomes comatose after a skirmish with a bullet lodged in his neck, and his wife must take care of him in their shabby rooms while the war rages outside. A wheelchair-using neighbor is similarly affected, also unable to use the emergency shelter because of several stairs.

Hospital care is non-existent and the “serum” the man needs for nutrition is expensive and hard to obtain. The man’s brothers never show up to evacuate him or provide the serum, so the increasingly desperate woman turns to prostitution. (She folds the man up and hides him behind a curtain to receive visits from a young soldier unable to talk to other girls because of a stutter.) But having never had a chance before to express herself to her husband without censure, the woman slowly begins to tell him her innermost thoughts. In this way, the husband unconsciously embodies the mythological syngué sabour, the Patience Stone which absorbs the suffering of those who confide in it… until it can handle no more, and explodes, destroying the world.

The film’s depiction of the care of a comatose person is so minimalist as to be ridiculous, and the film must be interpreted as more of an allegory of suffering and retribution in war and marriage than an accurate depiction of brain injury and disability. But seen through the lens of disability, the film can also be read as a depiction of caregiver burnout. With no family or societal support for the caregiver, it’s little wonder their little world implodes.

The Lunchbox

The Lunchbox contains an unusual depiction of disability, in that the disabled character is never seen at all. The main character, Ila, gets advice and recipes from her upstairs neighbor Deshpande Auntie, who’s always available to talk because she provides round-the-clock care for her minimally-conscious husband. Ila is occasionally pressed into service to pick up things from the store, and the two pass each other items by way of a basket lowered on a string. How Auntie supports the two of them is not explained.

Auntie is convinced that Uncle’s fate is tied to the ceiling fan above his bed, based on an incident where his heart rate dropped just as the ceiling fan was turned off. Consequently, Auntie takes great care to ensure the continuous operation of the ceiling fan, going so far as to stand on the bed to clean it while it’s running. It is hard to say whether Auntie and Uncle’s relationship is supposed to function as an example of undying love and devotion, or monotony and force of habit.

Talk To Her

We get that the director is using the lack of communication with a comatose person as a metaphor for the slow death of a romantic relationship, but it’s hard to articulate exactly what we found most objectionable about Talk to Her (Hable con Ella). Was it the fetishization of the comatose female body–immobile, unresponsive, and therefore the feminine ideal? Was it the ridiculously luxurious “neurological clinic” in which they lounge around nude most of the time, have round the clock one-on-one care to massage lotion into their thighs, and get taken outside regularly to sit in lounge chairs with Grace Kelly sunglasses on? (The medical system doesn’t even treat conscious people that well.) Was it the notable absence of IVs, feeding tubes, contractures, atrophy, DNRs? The pathologically lonely male nurse who rapes and impregnates one such comatose woman? Or is it the perpetuation of the ableist conceit that attention from the opposite sex can “wake up” a comatose person and effect a cure?

Miryo, “Dirty”

This K-pop solo debut of singer Miryo of the Brown-Eyed Girls features an unnamed protagonist who seems to have locked-in syndrome. She appears to the other characters as if in a coma, but we the audience can read her internal experience through the facial expressions that the others do not see. The use of a disabled character is meant to convey that she is an innocent, wronged in love, and seemingly unable to retaliate.

Before the music starts, she is wheeled into a spacious, elaborately decorated hospital room. Her hair is a mess, but the zebra striped blanket she retains is meant as a symbol of youth and individuality. Her doctor and nurse immediately begin flirting with each other, annoying our protagonist. A handsome young man arrives to drop off a basket of fruit and raise her heart rate, though she’s clearly unable to eat any of it or thank him for the offering. A female friend puts pink lip gloss on her, and her facial expressions register gratitude. Though locked-in syndrome is often the stuff of nightmares for the able-bodied, our protagonist is shown enjoying the care and attention.

The boyfriend and the female friend happen to visit her at the same time, and their attraction becomes apparent when they suddenly share a kiss. The doctor and nurse, intent on their own flirtation, inadvertently leave a syringe near our heroine’s hand. The boyfriend and female friend return during the next visiting hours, begin to undress each other, and quite rudely drop their clothing on the immobile protagonist.

She vows revenge, and over the course of the night manages to grab the syringe (in the classic cliche of overcoming her disability because she really, really wants to) and wield it like a samurai sword. The next day, when boyfriend and female friend return for another tryst, he sits on the syringe and screams like a little girl. He falls to the floor unconscious, knocking a glass onto some medical equipment. A fire is started that kills the female friend, the nurse, and the doctor in short order.

Korean broadcasting stations banned “Dirty” for containing the word “cross-eyed”, which could be perceived as a derogatory term for the disabled. Miryo was forced to change the lyrics to be able to perform on music shows.
Thanks to pop!gasa for the English translation:

You’re the one who called me first
You’re the one who asked me out first
But from some time, absurdly, you haven’t been calling as much and I haven’t been seeing you
Whenever we locked eyes, I fell into a deep lake called you and didn’t think about anything else
I trusted you like that but you inappropriately repay me by continuing to make me cry
Why does love fly to me like a butterfly to give me scars and leave?
All day I stare at my phone and on days I forget it at home,
As soon as I get back, the first thing I do is check but there isn’t a single text from you – why?
Hey, you! I… you!

* You’re dirty, you’re dirty
Why are you playing with a person’s heart?
I don’t want to care from now on
A person like you is typical – you’re dirty dirty, you’re dirty dirty
Why are you scratching up my innocent heart
I don’t want to mind from now on
I’m too good for someone like you – you’re dirty

“Good-looking guys can be hard to deal with (naw~) so be careful – he’s not worth keeping” (wut?!)
I disregarded what people said because I thought they were jealous
But that girl, that young girl, those pretty girls are all gathered around
And I see your eyes wandering – be careful, you’ll get cross-eyed
Half the world consists of guys (guys), but these days, there are more guys than girls
If you keep acting like you’re all that, let’s see how long that lasts – am I right? (yes sir!)
Even if you beg me to forget, clinging onto my leg, you’re over
You still got guts to see me? Stop trying to kiss me – you were a mistake, got it?

* repeat

I thought it was real,but you’ve been so bad
And I don’t care anymore..
You know why? What the…!

Just thinking about it makes me mad, the history of you and I
If I think about it, all your actions were so dirty dirty
Even if time goes back, chances are zero but I’m not sorry
You’re dirty, you’re dirty, you’re dirty
Just thinking about it makes me mad, the history of you and I
If I think about it, all your actions were so dirty dirty
I’m so sick of you! I’m so sick of you!
You’re dirty, you’re dirty, you’re dirty
You’re dirty, you’re dirty, you’re dirty
You’re dirty, you’re dirty

Firelight

Set in the 1800s, long before such things as feeding tubes, living wills, or functional MRI’s had been conceived of, Firelight tells the story of Charles, an English gentleman farmer who contracts with Elisabeth, an impoverished Swiss lady to bear him a child in secret. Elisabeth regrets her decision to give up the baby, and after a seven year-long search, convinces Charles’ sister-in-law to hire her as governess to Louisa, the defiant and illiterate daughter their union has produced. It is only then that the reason Charles wanted a child is revealed; he’s married to a woman, Amy, whose head injuries from a riding accident have left her in a coma since shortly after their wedding.

Amy is not portrayed being dressed, bathed, fed, or having her muscles stretched by servants or nurses, and yet this must happen off-screen, because she is neat, presumably clean, has a good appearance, and doesn’t have any apparent contractures or pressure sores, as might be expected after a decade comatose. She also seems to be of normal weight, in spite of the fact that feeding tubes and liquid nutrients have yet to be invented. Maids care for her, or at least sit with her as she lies in bed staring up at the ceiling, round the clock in the off-limits attic.

This isn’t Jane Eyre, though, and Elisabeth has no compunction against entering into a relationship with Charles, though he does initially experience pangs of guilt over the damage to his wife’s reputation. After one encounter, Charles reveals to Elisabeth in the light of the fire that he had sometimes thought of “letting her go”, but did not want to do so without a sure sign from his wife that she wanted to die.

Eventually the bills mount and the creditors close in (presumably from the cost of Amy’s care, as Charles seems to be the fiscally responsible one in the family). Elisabeth successfully bonds with Louisa, and it becomes apparent to Charles that Amy stands in the way of the happy nuclear family they desire.

Presumably divorce laws were tougher in those days, and few options for long-term care existed. On one particularly cold night, Charles makes the decision to euthanize his wife. He does ask Amy once more for a sign, but when none is forthcoming he dismisses the maid, opens the window, removes her blankets, and extinguishes her fireplace. The doctor is called when the next shift discovers her, and he pronounces her dead while everyone present looks askance at Charles.

Charles’ libertine father approves, and Amy’s sister presumes her death means that Charles is now free to marry her. Instead Charles and Elisabeth further defy social convention to marry and make their relationship known.