The Christmas Cottage

The Christmas Cottage is the story of a pivotal moment in painter Thomas Kinkade’s career; when he had to help his mother keep the family home from falling into foreclosure and help his mentor and neighbor Glen through his last days. Glen’s main disabilities are due to age; he has blurry vision, memory problems, and trouble walking, but refuses to use a walker even when one is procured for him. However, he does agree to use a gnarled branch, which he calls his “staff and rod”, pointing out that it could also be used to fight off his enemies if need be. He refuses any attempt to get him out of the house and seems to be in a depression as well, often bemoaning the fact that he can no longer capture his late wife on canvas.

Another elderly character is seen out and about more often in their little town; an old lady with hearing problems who’s still playing the piano for the annual Christmas pageant and drinking martinis. Though she’s seen getting pushed around in a wheelchair for longer distances, she’s still able to stand and even help fix up the Kinkade family cottage towards the end.

Soon after the town appears en masse at the cottage, Glen hobbles over on his staff and rod to deliver his last painting as a gift. He tells them to sell it and pay off the mortgage, and explains to Thomas that he had finally figured out the secret: that leaves are impermanent, so one should always paint the light that illuminates them instead. For an uncomfortable moment, we at Disability Movies were sure he was about to fulfill the cliche of the cripple who imparts his inspirational message and promptly dies. But Glen recovers himself, has Christmas dinner with the family, and dies serenely in his studio instead.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel follows a group of British retirees who decide to “outsource” their retirement to less expensive and seemingly exotic India. Enticed by advertisements for the newly restored Marigold Hotel and bolstered with visions of a life of leisure, they arrive to find the palace a shell of its former self. Though the new environment is less luxurious than imagined, they are forever transformed by their shared experiences, discovering that life and love can begin again when you let go of the past.

Wild Target

Victor Maynard of Wild Target was born to be a hit man; taught the family trade by his father and his career nurtured by his formidable mother Louisa. Louisa lived with him in the large ancestral home until recently, when (though there was an old-fashioned lift installed in the house for her wheelchair) she moved to an assisted living facility in London. Victor visits her regularly, where she is apparently still ruling the roost, dressing elegantly, serving tea, and keeping close tabs on her son’s career and (lack of) love life.

Victor isn’t terribly put off by his mother’s badgering as the years invested in such a solitary profession are beginning to take their toll. He falls for a woman he’s been hired to kill, an art thief much younger and prettier than he. When he finds himself unable to kill her, he takes on the job of her protector instead and brings her to the family estate in the countryside.

Mother advises him to apologize to his employer and finish the job for free lest he become a target himself, but when she gets wind of Rose’s whereabouts she becomes concerned that Victor is losing focus. Louisa takes a wheelchair-accessible taxi from her assisted-living facility to the country house, where she (no doubt using the lift) ambushes Rose with a large knife in the middle of the night in her bedroom. When Victor tries to intervene, his mother blows a hole through the door.

Professional killer mom Louisa gets packed off back to her assisted living facility after the wheelchair accessible London cab fleet enables her to attempt a hit on her son's love interest. I don't know about you, but I feel empowered.

Victor is mortified, but Rose forgives him, saying she has a cousin “mad as a balloon… but family is family, right?” Here marks the beginning of Victor’s loosening up; he has a good time at his birthday party, rips the plastic coverings off the furniture, and sleeps with Rose in short order.

Victor still must admit his past to Rose and face the hired guns that took her hostage, but when it comes time for a showdown in the family barn, it’s Louisa who appears on a loft in her electric wheelchair to save the day. (How the heck she got herself up there shall forever remain a mystery.) She kills one of the baddies with a machine gun and gives her son the upper hand, and the hit man and the thief live happily ever after. (Except for the cat.)

Samson and Delilah

Samson & Delilah is set in a remote Aboriginal Community, with the Aboriginal Delilah playing a much more realistic and sympathetic role than her namesake in the Bible.

Early in the film, it is shown that an unowned wheelchair is left outdoors, where it serves as an amusing ride for the village urchins, the largest and least promising of whom is age-indeterminate surfer-dude-looking Samson. Samson intimidates a smaller boy into turning over the wheelchair to him, and promptly uses it to play in. He sits outside of the Aboriginal community’s only grocery store in it, begging for handouts; no one is fooled.

Samson is old enough to have sprouted a small mustache and to occasionally amuse himself by playing guitar with some older guys who hang out near the general store. If he has parents, grandparents, or other relations, they don’t seem to be around or overly concerned with his slovenliness and lack of ambition. When he is at his disheveled, dusty home, he huffs glue and/or other inhalants; in one scene where he does some grafitti, he is shown giving a long sniff to the point of the permanent felt-tip pen.

Delilah, by contrast, lives a life of responsibility: she is the primary, if not sole, and most likely unpaid, caregiver for her grandmother Kitty, who is physically disabled and/or frail. Whatever Kitty has is not specified, but Delilah argues with her every morning to take her pills, and is frequently seen pushing her in a standard manual wheelchair (the health care system of that time and place most likely handed out one standard model of wheelchair, regardless of how inappropriate it was to the dusty terrain or their clients’ needs).

Delilah is shown to regularly take Kitty to a spartan corrugated metal chapel containing little more than a large cross, and to appointments at a clinic, at which no wheelchair ramp is seen. Someone (probably Delilah and/or clinic personnel) most likely has to haul Kitty in bodily, separately from her wheelchair. Though Kitty evidently does get to her clinic appointments, the movie does not make it clear exactly how this is accomplished.

The clinic from Samson and Delilah

Kitty and Delilah make a meager living by selling Kitty’s Aboriginal paintings to a white man who picks them up from them and takes them into town for galler(ies) to sell (at a large markup, Delilah would later discover).

One day while they are out in the yard, Kitty sees Samson just outside their property, and asks who he is. When Delilah tells her, Kitty says they should get married, though Delilah had evidenced no prior romantic interest in Samson (perhaps because she knows Samson as an idler with no visible means of support).

The grandmother’s idea is influenced by the fact that they are the “same skin”. As Americans watching this, the first thought was that like some of our mixed-blood blacks and dubious ancestried whites, some Aboriginals were particular about the color of one’s complexion. As it turns out, what Kitty really had in mind were Aboriginal family systems concerning who was related to whom and proprieties concerning who among these could legitimately marry. This, and several other things, including why the old women of the town beat Delilah bruised and bloody after the death of her grandmother, which were puzzling and left unexplained in the film, are explained in the film’s official FAQ.

Samson’s courting rituals are unmistakable and amusing, as is Delilah’s initial rejection of her putative husband. The two later form a bond after the grandmother dies and the neighborhood biddies beat up Delilah in their quest to find a scapegoat for Kitty’s death. Samson steals the shared community truck and drives the unconscious Delilah as far its tank of gas would take them. He stops only to siphon gas from other vehicles, but uses the soda bottle of gasoline he siphoned for huffing. It never occurs to him to use siphoned gas to refuel the truck when they finally run out of gas. (Though it is never overtly stated, it is implied that Samson has mild brain damage from his inhalant abuse.)

The pair end up sleeping under an overpass, sharing an encampment with an alcoholic homeless older Aboriginal man, who luckily proves friendly to them, albeit in a strange way (among other things, he serves them re-heated, canned spaghetti for breakfast while singing about it). He repeatedly asks the pair to talk to him, to tell him their story, but they remain silent. When he threatens to withdraw his assistance one day, Samson stutters out his name and we realize one of the reasons he doesn’t talk much.

If Delilah’s grandmother wanted her to marry on the theory that in Samson Delilah would have a protector, if not a provider, Samson proves a failure at this too: in one scene, Delilah is abducted by a group of white youths with a car, and Samson almost doesn’t notice while he is walking and huffing gasoline fumes from his soda bottle of siphoned gasoline. (It is only upon her return, with a black eye and most likely raped, that she resorts to huffing. Previously, her “escape” had been listening to music from a car cassette player.) Again the film’s FAQ comes to the rescue: it explains that Samson also has hearing loss and the couple has mostly been communicating through Aboriginal hand signals and body language. This comes into play again when Delilah is similarly hit by a car; Samson is about ten paces ahead and doesn’t notice.

He makes no attempt to retrace his steps and recover her; instead he huffs himself into a weeks-long drug induced stupor. Delilah appears almost as an angel in a clean white hoodie, wearing a shiny leg brace and using a crutch. She’s called in the cavalry; a man from their community picks up the near-dead Samson, carries him to the recovered truck, and drives them both back.

This time, the cadre of old ladies beats Samson with tree limbs, but Delilah fights them off. She cleans up the shack that she and her grandmother called home, burns a painting in tribute, gives Samson a good bath and sets him up in Kitty’s former wheelchair with a radio to keep him entertained. The film ends on a hopeful note; perhaps Samson will recover from the damage he’s done to his brain with the love of a good woman, and for all his faults, perhaps he’ll be a good companion to the scarred Delilah.

Note: though Samson and Delilah has minimal dialogue throughout, only the dialogue in their Aboriginal language is subtitled. English dialogue is not captioned, so deaf and hard-of-hearing folks may have a little trouble following the story. We don’t quite have the heart to stick this movie in the Hall of Shame though.

The Girl Who Played with Fire

The Girl Who Played With Fire, the second in the trilogy of movie adaptions of the bestselling Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest) includes brief depictions of a man disfigured and crippled by burn injuries and age, and a person with congenital analgesia (an inability to feel pain).

Using disfigurement as a shorthand of indicating a villain is a time-honored tradition in movies and literature before that, but at least in this case the villain arrived by his injuries as a result of his villainy; he was set afire by the plucky heroine as revenge for raping and beating her mother. Years later, when his name, Zalachenko, comes up in connection to a series of murders, the police dismiss him as a suspect because he’s a “cripple who would need to call a mobility service to get anywhere”.

Little do the police know that Zalachenko has a grown son, Niedermann, with congenital analgesia. Built like a tank and capable of carrying out Zalachenko’s dirty work; murders, intimidations, beatings, and torchings. People with an inability to feel pain have become the new cliche movie henchmen; they are portrayed as being virtually unstoppable and unmoved by the suffering of others. The reality for people with congenital insensitivity to pain is quite different. As they cannot feel the damage being done to their bodies minor injuries often escalate into permanent damage, leaving many of them unsuited to a life of crime.

Mary and Max

Mary and Max

Mary, who experiences alienation in every aspect of her life, starts out with parents who are poor, weird, and unsympathetic (her father is into taxidermy, her mother is an alcoholic who seems to do nothing but yell at her) and eventually end up dead. The visible evidence that she is neglected at home makes her a pariah at school in spite of the fact that it is the other children who are overtly engaging in bad behavior (at one point, she comes to school with a coat fastened with clothespins because her pet chicken pecked off the buttons and nobody sewed them back on, and other children harrass her in the schoolyard, with one boy going so far as to pee on her sandwich in plain sight). In an attempt to remedy her loneliness, she picks Max’s name at random out of a phone book, and is lucky enough to get a reply back from someone who is obviously sympathetic and intelligent.  Max’s letters ring true to Asperger’s style: full of plain speaking, factual details, and jumping from one topic to another, but in the eyes of society and her mother, potentially dangerous and unsuitable for children. Maybe it was Max’s mention of having been a mental patient, or the frank but inappropriate discussion of his sex life (or rather, the lack thereof) that sets the mother off when she finds the first letter and throws it away, believing she is protecting her child. In spite of how this looks to her mother (and most average people), correspondence with someone who has been in her shoes as a social outcast is exactly what Mary needs. Contrary to a lot of recent portrayals, it is possible for people with Asperger’s to have friends, but in view of the fact that some of the things they do and say go against society’s notion of what is considered appropriate, this perhaps can lead to a bonding with people on the margins of society.

(Speaking of inappropriate things and portrayals of sexuality, Australia’s movie and video industry must have somewhat different standards of what is considered appropriate to show in a picture purportedly for children than prevail in the USA. Let’s just say this was the first time I’ve seen claymation genitals.)

Luckily for Mary’s emotional equilibrium, she is in a position to send another letter in which she describes the situation to Max, and comes up with a solution: he will henceforth send his letters to the address of an elderly neighbor whom she helps out.

The premise of the possibility of pen pals who can have a years-long and very intense relationship without engaging in physical contact of any sort is a theme of this and a handful of other films such as My Japanese Wife (perhaps it is increasing in popularity as global communications of every sort are becoming more widespread?)

Admittedly, some of the reactions they have to one another’s letters seem exaggerated for effect, such as the fact that Max’s objection to being used as a case study for the sake of her career in psychology sends her into a spiral of suicidality and some of Mary’s letters sent Max into “meltdown” mode and in one case, effected his return to the mental health system (where he would be told he had Asperger’s Syndrome, in spite of the fact that it was way too early in the timeline for such a thing to be possible in real life, as Asperger’s was only recognized by the American Psychological Association in 1994. And yes, someone who really does have Asperger’s really would have a problem with a purportedly serious and sensitive movie set in a specific temporal period getting a widely-known piece of factual information so glaringly wrong!)

In spite of the claymation medium, which is usually reserved for less-than-serious examples of the cinematic oeuvre, I found myself liking the overall gestalt of this picture in spite of having some problems with particular parts of it.

Movie Review by Laura Brose