Catfish

A documentary–of sorts–of a Facebook romance gone bad, Catfish follows Nev Schulman, a New York City photographer, as he slowly unravels the web of lies and half-truths told him by a pretty 19 year-old calling herself Megan on the web. He drives to Michigan to find out how much of the story is real, and discovers the woman behind the sexy texts is 40 year old Angela Wesselman. Still trying to keep up the charade, Angela lets Nev into her home while pretending to call Megan; Nev happens upon two shirtless young men and is flatly told, “They’re handicapped.” Nev quickly puts down the camera and continues his fact-finding mission from the front porch.

Later, Nev gently confronts Angela about her deceptions, and she tells him that all her online personalities were based on herself, on the person she would have been had she made different choices in life, such as not marrying Vince and becoming the stepmother (and, apparently, primary caregiver) to two severely developmentally delayed boys. (Their specific disability is never named.) One uses a wheelchair and is fed via g-tube, while the other is ambulatory and can lead her to the kitchen to indicate when he’s hungry. (Angela implies that he’ll hit her with a pot if she doesn’t comply.)

Nev is satisfied knowing the impetus of Angela’s escapist fantasies, but though caregiving for two severely disabled individuals is taxing both physically and mentally, few caregivers act out in such ways. By way of explanation, Wesselman claims in a 20/20 interview that she’d been diagnosed as a schizophrenic, and there were days when she believed that Megan really existed. We at Disability Movies sincerely hope the Wesselman family has gotten some appropriate home health care to relieve the strain.

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.