Pick of the week: A violent, sexy and startling love story

from Salon: Pick of the week: A violent, sexy and startling love story
Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard plays a paraplegic in love with a kickboxer in “Rust and Bone”
By Andrew O’Hehir
If I tell you that “Rust and Bone” is a love story about a killer-whale trainer and a single-dad kickboxer, it sounds like one kind of movie. (Admittedly, not a kind you’ve seen very often.) But what if I add that it stars Oscar winner and “Inception” co-star Marion Cotillard as a woman who loses her legs in a bizarre accident? Or if I tell you that it’s a vibrant, violent and ferociously sexy film driven by a soundtrack heavy on Anglo-American dance-pop? (This is a movie to dance to, or make love to, not one to sit around with glasses of overpriced wine and chat about.) Then if I tell you it’s a French film, a showcase for extraordinary acting and moments of cinematic abstraction, an acrid social commentary, and in some sense an heir to the classic romances spun by Max Ophüls and Eric Rohmer and Jean-Luc Godard, it sounds like something else again.

None of that sounds like I’m describing the same movie, except to some tiny coterie of international cinema buffs out there who might say, “Oh, the new Jacques Audiard film. Well, of course.” Audiard is now 60 years old and has made just six features since moving from screenwriting to directing in the early ’90s. He’s well-known in France and has twice won the César, or French Oscar, for best picture — for “The Beat That My Heart Skipped” in 2005 (an adaptation of James Toback’s “Fingers”) and the brilliant 2010 prison saga “A Prophet” — but remains completely obscure in America, which is at least mildly ironic. If all of French cinema for the last 30 years has been preoccupied with confronting the power and popular appeal of Hollywood, at least arguably, Audiard may be the most conspicuously Americanized of French directors. He makes genre films designed to thrill you and titillate you as well as engage your mind, and seeks an almost metaphysical fusion between 1970s Hollywood and the French New Wave. (Mind you, I could use that same sentence to describe Luc Besson, except that I’d have to take out the “engage your mind” part, and somehow sneak in the phrase “unbelievable garbage.”)

All of which is to say that my attempt to describe “Rust and Bone” adequately is likely to fail, and so is anybody else’s. You should just go see it, because it has a visual command and powerful narrative undertow all its own. It’s going to play art-house theaters, because it has subtitles and that means that only an infinitesimal percentage of the population is willing to give it a try. But you don’t need to read to understand the shot where you see a guy’s bloody molar go skittering across the ground like a runaway insect, or the dreamlike scene where a woman commands a killer whale with gestures, like a conductor before an orchestra. Not to mention the one where the killer-whale lady and the former owner of the molar have hot sex, and we can see clearly that both her legs end above the knee, and that she has had the stumps tattooed “DROITE” and “GAUCHE,” left and right. (There was a moment during the film when I thought I understood why she did that. But – sorry, it’s gone.)

In fact, “Rust and Bone” is specifically a movie about people who hardly talk at all, or at least not about their emotional lives. Here’s the big courtship scene between Cotillard’s character, the double-amputee whale trainer named Stéphanie, and the Belgian kickboxer cum security guard called Ali, played by Matthias Schoenaerts. They become friends, and she mentions one day after they’re cleaning up the lunch dishes that she hasn’t had sex since her injury and isn’t even sure the equipment still works. He nods and asks: “So do you want to fuck?” He doesn’t have to be at work for a while and doesn’t have another date or anything; he genuinely wouldn’t mind. And they claim chivalry is dead! (In an earlier scene, Stéphanie asks Ali why he’s carrying a kid’s toy en route to an illegal street fight. “For my son,” he responds. She’s known him for weeks and had no idea he had one.)

Cotillard gets the showier role in “Rust and Bone,” playing Stéphanie as a species of melodramatic heroine, a vain, somewhat spoiled woman who is thrust into a new relationship with her body and the world after her devastating accident. (Digital effects are used to remove Stéphanie’s legs, but it’s so convincing you’ll never ask yourself how it was done.) As she tells Ali during their first meeting, before the accident, she is used to attracting sexual attention from men and rather likes it. He is driving her home after rescuing her, in his role as nightclub bouncer, from an overly attentive suitor. She gives him a slight come-on signal, but first of all she’s got a boyfriend at home and second of all Ali blows it, observing that if she’s going to dress like a whore, she shouldn’t be shocked if guys get the wrong idea.

But it’s Schoenaerts’ performance as the muscular, laconic Ali (he isn’t Arab or Muslim; it’s a nickname) who holds the key to “Rust and Bone.” Here I go, attaching a brainiac interpretation to a movie that is primarily a visual and kinetic experience — the masterful cinematography is by Stéphane Fontaine, Audiard’s usual collaborator — but I think “Rust and Bone” is about the relationship between the mind and body in contemporary society, and maybe also about the way late capitalism has stripped away so much of the veneer of civilization. Ali is neither an indecent nor a dishonest man. He works hard and doesn’t steal and never uses his physical strength to abuse the weak. He has traveled to his sister’s house in Antibes, in the south of France, after extracting his son from some dire criminal situation in Belgium. But he’s also instinctive and almost animalistic; as his offensive remark to Stéphanie suggests, he has poor judgment, doesn’t think before he speaks, and seems unconscious of the bourgeois social codes that once governed male-female intercourse. (It apparently doesn’t occur to him, for instance, that going to a nightclub with Stéphanie and then ditching her for an able-bodied girl is a move that lacks panache.)

It’s only partly accurate, and way too simplistic, to suggest that the twin demands of fatherhood and helping Stéphanie build a new life after her injury help develop a moral sense within Ali. It’s just as true to say that the brutality and directness of Ali’s existence — the fact that he makes money by beating other men and being beaten by them — shock Stéphanie out of her self-pity and connect her to the basic physical facts of being alive. But let’s go bigger than that: “Rust and Bone” is one of the year’s best films precisely because it can’t be boiled down to a message or synopsis. It’s an exercise in style that risks trashiness in search of transcendence, and it’s a sizzling celebration of the power of music, the power of images, and the electric, destructive power of the human body.

“Rust and Bone” opens this week in New York and Los Angeles, with national release to follow.

Sympathy for Delicious

In Sympathy For Delicious, we have a story which parallels the Satanic Verses in a modern, American, Christian context.
“Delicious”, a.k.a. “Delicious D” is a youngish paraplegic man of no steady employment and no fixed address living on the streets and sleeping in his car while affecting a scruffy rocker-grunge look that isn’t entirely genuine grunge.
He eats at a small soup kitchen a priest runs out of a food cart on Skid Row. Though he tells the priest he wants to get into an SRO (good luck on that, the few that still exist are probably not wheelchair-accessible), the priest, who offers social services on a similarly small scale, tries to sell him on an assisted living facility and provides paperwork for it, but Delicious’ youth and pride cause him to reject that option and continue sleeping in his car while seeking out the occasional DJ-ing gig. He has some talent and fame at that, but the band he is seen auditioning for initially blows him off, for reasons of ableism.
Eventually his talent speaks for itself, and they grudgingly come around and accept him. However, another situation has come up which affects both his standing with the band and his situation on Skid Row.
He suddenly and inexplicably develops the ability to heal people of physical ailments in the miraculous fashion of Jesus in the Scriptures by laying on his hands and engaging in what appears to be a transfer of energy from him to them. It doesn’t work in all cases, and it doesn’t work on himself. (If the transfer of quasi-electric energy theory is correct, that explains why he cannot heal himself; which is one of the first things he tries soon after the healing power is made manifest through him; his energy would simply be feeding into a closed loop.) Yet crowds of people flock to him, and the priest encourages this in spite of Delicious’ intermittant abilities, because he hopes for a large donation from a man with a daughter who has Cerebral Palsy he hopes Delicious will heal. Though the priest pays for Delicious to stay in a hotel room, he is cagey about how much, exactly, he is collecting in donations from Delicious as a healing sensation. Delicious is suspicious about how much the priest is profiting (with the money ostensibly going towards building a proper shelter and social services agency) from his newly-developed paranormal abilities.
He feels used, and given a choice by our modern, secular society, he throws in his lot with the rock band, who also end up exploiting his healing powers for their profit; he agreed to participate in “Healapalooza” using his powers publicly at concerts much the same way he had drawn crowds on Skid Row, he merely hopes to see more of the money from the latter venture.
However, it ends in disaster when his healing power fails to work on a girl who is suffering the effects of an overdose, and he and his bandmates end up in court being charged with negligent homicide. The priest, this time inexplicably dressed in a business suit, testifies as a character witness.

Benda Bilili!

Benda Bilili! starts with the title sequence being livened up by footage of a man with deformed legs convulsively dancing using his hands as feet, and later segues to a nighttime street scene wherein a group of street children are gathered amidst a backdrop of poverty and neglect, which the camera pans to portray. One of the urchins, only 13 and already a nihilist, in a short speech summing up the climate of societal anarchy on the streets of Kinshasa, loudly declaims upon the necessity to steal to survive, and declares that he would “comb” (pickpocket) a camera-laden European, should he cross paths with one.
Day dawns, and the physically disabled street musicians of Staff Benda Bilili are seen. Benda Bilili means “look beyond” in the Congolese dialect which they use, and as the movie plays, it slowly becomes apparent that the small band of street musicians provides an alternative path and a socially beneficial role for some of the street children in the area. The musicians of Benda Bilili are just as fatalistic as the tween nihilist, but somewhat more optimistic: one of their frequently-played songs speaks of poverty, wealth, and social status as being things beyond individuals’ control, saying anyone could end up on the streets sleeping on cardboard at any time, but conversely, the man sleeping on the street may just as suddenly and inexplicably experience a rise in his fortunes to afford a mattress.
The band consists of four core members, all of them middle-aged men, accompanied by a handful of occasional players and street children who assist them and push their improvised wheelchairs. Some of these seem to be customized vehicles based on bicycle frames and wheels, semi-recumbent, with two back wheels and a slim chair seat in lieu of a saddle, with a front wheel for steering. The pedals and chain drive are placed high on the frame, so the pedals can be worked with hands. Some users thus pedal their vehicles themselves, some are pushed by a street child or two. Such vehicles are called “tricycles” in the movie and though it is not revealed in the documentary how they are made, the disabled people of Africa are well-known for their ingenuity in building mobility aids from recycled materials. There is at least one instance of a moped modified by the installation of an automobile seat. The moped’s motor either doesn’t work, or nobody pays for gasoline: this particular vehicle requires several street children to push it.

Benda Bilili

The musicians of Benda Bilili pose with their improvised wheelchairs.

The leader of the musical group is Ricky, who with grizzled hair is entering the upper range of middle age and is also the oldest group member. He claims that he became disabled by having had polio, and is sometimes seen to walk using arm crutches, but most other times, he uses one of the aforementioned outsized “tricycles” to get around. Ricky not only plays music, but devises and performs original compositions. At one point, he serves as a singing public service announcement, entreating “responsible parents” to take their children to vaccination centers, get them vaccinated for polio, and, further, to treat children who have had polio the same as those who haven’t “because you never know which one will help you (financially) later” (in life).
Roger, who later becomes the sole able-bodied full member of the ensemble, is first seen as a street child who tells the camera that playing music in the street with an improvised instrument composed of a milk can, a partial wooden bow, and a bit of what appears to be fishing line, provided him with a better income than the begging he had previously engaged in, and helped support his single mother and younger siblings. He is seen to join the Benda Bilili jam sessions which take place at the Kinshasha Zoo, where the musicians rehearse (all music instruction is by ear) and their street children/attendants get a break and have the opportunity to discuss the fact that working to push the wheelchairs of Benda Bilili offers them quasi-legitimate work and is much better than some of the alternatives. Though they seem to pay the children a relatively small amount, for some of them it means the ability to save money for school fees and leave the streets, for others, to contribute to the support of more vulnerable family members. The musicians each get a share of every show’s “take”, with some pooled money set aside for such necessities as beer, champagne for special occasions, cigarettes, and weed (musicians being pretty much the same regardless of age, geographical location, or physical condition).
Roger’s primitive lyre (variously referred to a monochord or a satonge) becomes decorated for various occasions and more robust in construction. Roger is seen to grow up, gain an American-style gangsta-rapper ensemble, and go from street child to (relatively) financially-successful young man, able to purchase home furnishings and move into his own place, during the course of the film, which spans several years, as the societal unrest and economic malaise in which the band exists presents constant obstacles to the band’s having their music recorded and distributed to a wider audience, being able to benefit from the royalties.
As a country which has experienced constant economic malaise, and political upheaval (a coup is one of the events which serves to interrupt filming and the musicians’ quest for recording and international exposure), the Congo could never have been said to have much of a social safety net. Nevertheless, there had been an institution of sorts for the physically handicapped, called “The Banda Shelter”. Unlike many institutions of its kind in the developed world, this particular physical facility was decidedly open to the surrounding community, indeed, the main building was actually open on one side, more of a large bus shelter than a solid building, people freely entered and exited the grounds, and the main service or activity provided that was shown in the movie was an open dirt field in which a group of men with withered lower legs played ball by walking and running on their hands.
At one point, the Banda shelter burns down, rendering Ricky and his family homeless. Ricky works selling cigarettes and other small items at a stand, and others in the band disperse to try to make a living in other callings and places. It is only through good luck, a concerted search for Roger, and the funding and opportunities offered by the documentary team, that the band is able to reunite and achieve its eventual happy ending wherein the Benda Bilili goes on a European tour in which they have the use of proper (albeit manual) wheelchairs and worry about whether the smoke detectors in their hotel rooms also sense the presence of marijuana and report it to the authorities.

Musical Chairs

Musical Chairs opens to scenes of an urbanized, working-class NYC neighborhood purportedly in the Bronx, but with a lot of scenes filmed in Brooklyn. Puerto Rican flags flutter in the air, old Hispanic men play dominoes at outdoor card tables, and a middle-aged Puerto Ricans woman with dyed dark hair, dark red lipstick, and a low-cut dress walks into a botanica for candles and a love potion. The occult aids to romance are not for herself, she is more or less happily married, but for her young adult son Armando, who is still single. At the botanica, she also picks up Rosa, a girl of similar background and long raven hair, whom she deems to be a suitable match for Armando, and spends a lot of time in the movie trying to throw her in his way. All budding drama of a conventional sort and within a milieu of the Hispanic culture and striving socioeconomic class within which they live (Rosa is going to college for accounting, while Armando works in a Times Square area Manhattan dance studio by day, and his family’s outer-borough restaurant by night).
While his mother initially seems to have a clear agenda as to whom he should settle down with and what future path he should take, Armando has his own ideas about his prospective romantic partner. He has been admiring blonde German-English Mia, an advanced dance student and social partner of his boss at the dance studio.
“Mia and Armando’s worlds are as far apart as you can imagine: she’s from the Upper East Side hailing from a well-to-do family; Armando works at his family’s restaurant in the Puerto Rican section of Bushwick, Brooklyn,” says producer/actor Joey Dedio. However, it takes some time to get into a circumstance where he is alone with her and they can do some romantic dancing. It is shortly after that encounter when Mia, reminded that she had forgotten her scarf, tries to cross the street to get back to the studio and is mowed down by an errant taxicab. It is this tragic accident which provided the entree to the world of the disabled for two able-bodied young people who were seemingly unlikely to have encountered disability issues otherwise (neither one is seen to have friends or relatives in wheelchairs before the fateful incident). This is also how they meet other patients in the hospital also in wheelchairs, who are interesting and compelling, if not realistic characters. A goth girl, a right-winger, and a transexual are among them.
Armando, undoubtably feeling guilty for his role in the accident which led to the spinal cord injury which put Mia in a wheelchair, plays the “good boyfriend” and constantly visits Mia in the hospital, brings her flowers, and suggests that they go to in-hospital actvities together. (The other suitor has conveniently disappeared. It is never said outright, but perhaps he is no longer interested now that Mia is no longer able-bodied. Nevertheless, Armando is.) Mia, still under the influence of situational depression, nixes every activity Armando suggests, including the on-line video he shows her of wheelchair dancing. In order to overcome her reluctance and provide a situation in which they could engage in wheelchair dancing, Armando attempts to organize a wheelchair dancing class at the hospital. He is met by bureaucratic opposition from a white, upper-class hospital administrator, who cited budget concerns and insurance liability, even though Armando said he would volunteer to teach the class for free, and the hospital already plays host to wheelchair basketball in their gymnasium. (Besides wheelchair basketball, there also seems to be a rec room with a public internet-connected computer and an aquatherapy room with an enviable pool)
Downcast, he pours out his troubles to the plump black working-class nurse on duty, who believes in his effort sufficiently to collude with him in getting around the bureaucratic obstacle, and as keeper of a stuffed keychain, enables him to utilize the gym after the wheelchair basketball team have finished. When this insubordination is discovered, as it inevitably would be, she enables the wheelchair dance class to continue by blackmailing Mr. Grinker with the fact that her iPhone contains video footage of him flirting with a blonde at the office Christmas party which would cause even more drama if it were revealed to his wife.
Though his wheelchair dance class initially gets off to a slow start, new life and catchy music are injected into it by one of the patients, a black transsexual who later enlists a group of his/her gay/trans friends to make costumes for the dancers, who later, in the name of drama, end up entering a wheelchair ballroom dancing competition.
There are a couple of instances in the movie pointing out some other practical issues facing people with physical disabilities as well as societal stigma and myth-making. When Armando’s mother first becomes aware that he is seeing Mia, she is inclined to discourage the budding romance not only because she favors Rosa, but because she may well believe some misconceptions about women in wheelchairs. She articulates a few, along the lines of “she can’t make Armando happy”, and (what if) “she can’t have children”.
After having done some Santeria to try to bring Armando and Rosa closer, Armando’s mother eventually changes course and tells Mia the reason for the change of heart is, “I’ve seen the way he looks at you”.
After the accident, Mia’s parents try to get her to move back to the family home, on the grounds they could “have it totally renovated” for wheelchair access (presumably they have unlimited finances). But, cherishing her independence, she wants to return to life in her own apartment. She and Armando return there for a visit: while Armando is willing and able to carry her up multiple flights of stairs to get there, Mia realizes that she cannot live there again: “the cabinets are all too high”, and a number of other things are wheelchair-unfriendly. The goth girl gets stares and questions about her wheelchair from curious children. Wheelchair ballroom dancing, as it turns out, requires an able-bodied partner for each person in a wheelchair, and as one of the participants in Armando’s clandestine class in the hospital said, referring to the isolated and institutionalized character of their lives at that time” where are we going to get one of those?” Armando’s traditional extended Latino family comes to the rescue, and helps bring about some comic relief, as well as a happy ending for all but perhaps the goth girl with the vanity wheelchair.

Defining Beauty: Ms. Wheelchair America

Defining Beauty: Ms. Wheelchair America, narrated by Katey Sagal, and directed by Alexis Ostrander, is a feature length documentary that reveals the behind-the-scenes aspects of a perhaps little-known beauty pageant which provides a unique experience for women in wheelchairs by following the stories of five of the contestants in the 2010 Ms. Wheelchair America Pageant.

The women given extended air time in the documentary (there are many more, including pageant organizers and family members, who are given sound bites) make it a point to show the audience that while they must utilize wheelchairs, their status as wheelchair users doesn’t define them, though they are well aware that many able-bodied people look at them and “just see the chair”. One is seen skydiving during the early part of the movie. Another described herself as “a single mother of three kids” (only one of which lives with her full-time, the pageant organizers later sent her a letter asking her to cease publicly describing herself in a way that implies she has full-time custody of all of them), which she says “is not typical for someone in my …position”. Later in the movie, a third who speaks of having consciously rejected “advocacy” for the disabled says she unconsciously ended up engaging in a form of it when she became her high school’s first wheelchair-using cheerleader, and later entered the mainstream Miss New Jersey pageant.

By sharing their personal stories, though many have horrific stories of spinal cord injuries acquired in car crashes, they hope to show the general population an image of wheelchair users beyond the simplistic portrayal of victims or heroes that is often promoted in the popular media. (One soon-to-be-former Ms. Wheelchair America “tags” a wall when out on a sight-seeing excursion for the contestants when she comes upon a street muralist who lends her a can of spray paint to enable her to do this. The citizenry and the law in the area of Texas where the pageant is held seem to take a live-and-let-live attitude during these outings of pageant contestants.)

One aspect of the documentary which is educational for those who are not well-acquainted with the lives of individuals who have physical disabilities, is when some of the contestants discuss on camera matters that individuals with less poise and savvy in dealing with the public might be embarrassed to discuss. Quadriplegics who don’t have physical sensation may occasionally get surprised by errant bladder and bowl action. Those who use catheters risk infection in portable toilet booths. There are those who have physical conditions which mean when they have to “go”, they have to go now. Mention is made of such things, perhaps because if the general public were aware of such matters, they would be more sensitive about keeping the wheelchair stall in the restroom free, and giving the disabled priority in restrooms.

Not everyone in a wheelchair who participates in this pageant has the same degree of ability to do things personally. Some footage of caregivers transferring people from wheelchair to bed, checking their clothing, etc. is seen. A woman who has “flippers” for hands, and stumps for legs, her mother having taken thalidomide when she was pregnant, is able to use the tips of her arms much the way an elephant uses his trunk, and puts on her eyeliner herself by propping the pencil eyeliner against the edge of the dressing table.

The Ms. Wheelchair America pageant draws upon a more diverse pool of applicants than many other pageants, being open to women between the ages of 21 and 60, who rely upon a wheelchair full-time. Judges are “encouraged to place less emphasis on physical attractiveness and more on ‘general pleasant appearance'”, capacity for “advocacy” is emphasized, and while there isn’t the same presumption of purity required of Miss America contestants, some drama ensues when a rumor concerning one of the contestants making porn for “devotees” (men who are “into” women with disabilities with the disability as their primary “turn-on”) circulates among the other contestants.

Sympathy for Delicious: Tragic life experiences inspire heartthrob actor’s 10-year journey to directorial debut

From the New York Post:

“Life’s bulls – – t! There’s no way out!”

So declares a paralyzed and homeless deejay, played by Christopher Thornton in “Sympathy for Delicious,” upon finding that everything he owns has been stolen from the car he’s been sleeping in.

“There is a way out,” says the local skid-row priest, played by Mark Ruffalo, “but you’re gonna have to find it.”

As it happens, Ruffalo — who makes his directorial debut with the film, out Friday — understands the challenge of transcending life’s most trying situations as much as anyone.

In December 2008, while “Sympathy for Delicious” was in pre-production, Scott Ruffalo, the beloved little brother that Mark built many a treehouse with while growing up in Kenosha, Wis., was shot to death in his Beverly Hills condo. (Acquaintances on the scene claimed he died playing Russian roulette. The police consider it an unsolved homicide.)

His brother’s death at 39 made directing the film, which is dedicated to Scott, a surreal and devastating experience. Ruffalo says he was “in a state of shock” while making most of the movie. Yet as horrific as his brother’s death was, it was only the latest in a series of tragedies in Ruffalo’s life.

In 1994, his longtime best friend Michael, then 26, killed himself. Ruffalo later credited this for teaching him “the value of life,” and said it strengthened his resolve to carry on as an actor.

Ruffalo came to prominence with the 2000 family drama “You Can Count on Me,” and married a beautiful French actress named Sunrise Coigney that same year. Their son, Keen, was born in 2001. Several weeks after this joyous event, Ruffalo’s world came crashing down.

“I had a bad dream, and woke up in tears,” he told Parade Magazine. “In the dream, I knew I had a brain tumor.”

The dream seemed so real that he visited a doctor and learned he really did have a tumor, an acoustic neuroma that turned out to be benign. Still, Ruffalo endured a 10-hour operation that left his face partially paralyzed for most of the next year.

He was sure his career was over.

Rumors spread throughout Hollywood that Ruffalo was drunk, on drugs or had AIDS. He checked his face daily for months on end, praying for a flicker of activity, but believed the paralysis to be permanent.

Then, one day, he detected minuscule movement in one eye.

“I showed my wife,” he said. “We started jumping for joy, yelling, ‘It’s coming back!’ We’d been through so much together, and we just burst into tears. In another three months my face came completely back.”

As he re-ignited his acting career, Ruffalo also pursued a passion project on the other side of the camera. He had befriended Christopher Thornton while studying acting at LA’s Stella Adler Conservatory. They shared an apartment, but soon after moving in together, Thornton broke his spine in a climbing accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down.

Finding himself adrift, Thornton briefly looked into faith healing. Soon seeing the folly in that, he was inspired to write a 198-page script about a homeless deejay in a wheelchair who tries faith healing, rejects it, then discovers that he has the power to heal others, but not himself.

When he read the script, Ruffalo knew he had to direct it, and the film became the pair’s mutual obsession for the next 10 years. Ruffalo worked with Thornton to develop 40 different drafts of the script, and they immersed themselves in related experiences including Ruffalo sending Thornton to spend several days living in his car.

But the pair’s passion failed to move the studios, and even Ruffalo’s wife began imploring him to drop the project. The film was close to being made, only to then fall apart, several times before an old friend came through with financing. Then, as Ruffalo prepared to finally see his dream realized, Scott was killed.

With his brother’s death and his frustration with the film creating massive disillusionment with Hollywood, Ruffalo fired his handlers and deserted LA, moving with Sunrise and their three children to the small town of Callicoon, NY — about two hours northwest of New York City, near Port Jervis — where he enjoys growing eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes in his garden.

“It wasn’t until I lived through a winter in upstate New York, where it was all blanketed with snow and there was nothing but time, that I started coming to terms with what had happened,” Ruffalo, 43, told the Telegraph. “Looking back, I think there was a little grief-driven madness in what I did. They say you’re not supposed to make any major decisions while you are grieving, but I did the opposite.”

Ruffalo intended to leave acting altogether, but Julianne Moore, a good friend of Sunrise’s, persuaded him to take a part he had first rejected — that of the sperm donor in her new film, “The Kids Are All Right.”

Ruffalo saw an openness in the character that reminded him of Scott, and perceived the role as a way to celebrate his brother’s life. Playing the part not only rejuvenated the joy he found in acting, but earned him his first Oscar nomination.

Next up for Ruffalo is the most uncharacteristic part he’s played, that of Bruce Banner — a k a The Hulk — in “The Avengers.” He lost 15 pounds for the role, which was filmed using motion capture technology that transformed him into two tons of muscular green anger.

While Ruffalo is ready to embrace the joy and success to come, directing “Sympathy for Delicious” through a turbulent time in his life ultimately helped ground him.

Finishing the film provided him with a “real-life sense of catharsis,” he told Details. “Not the heavens opening up. More like: I f – – king didn’t die. I’m still getting by. Which today for a human being is a lot, you know?”

Wheel Chair

“Wheel Chair” is a 1995 Bollywood movie, minus much of the singing and dancing, available on Netflix in the Bengali language with English subtitles. Susmita, a typist, is working late one night when three men attack her in the stairwell with the intent to rape her, causing her to fall and break her neck. Someone calls an ambulance, and the doctors at the hospital she’s taken to decline to do surgery (presumably to stabilize her neck) for fear of affecting the “Vegas” nerve. (Surely they mean vagus. One would hope that a doctor has a good grasp of geography; after all, they’d better know how to locate the islets of Langerhaans.)

Susmita’s head is put into a primitive Hannibal Lechter-type headgear that doesn’t look terribly stable, ostensibly to provide traction. The company Susmita worked for takes responsibility for paying for her care and rehabilitation, and she is brought into the care of Dr. Mitra, who runs a home for “neurological disabilities” and is also a paraplegic himself.

Dr. Mitra

Dr. Mitra agrees to take Susmita as a patient

Dr. Mitra acquired his disability in a car accident in England on his way to a neurology conference, and “somehow found his way” back to India. (It is fortunate that he became a neurologist before becoming disabled, as people with disabilities who want to enter the medical profession often face obstacles and prejudice from medical schools.) The small clinic/home he founded in Calcutta has lost its funding from the government, and the board of directors wants to sell the land to put up a nursing home. Dr. Mitra must balance his time between treating patients, fighting with his own board of directors, and cajoling money from businessmen to keep the home running and the patients fed. He is portrayed as being a professional inspiration to his patients, yet privately he drinks, relies on the assistance of the able-bodied staff for tasks a paraplegic can usually do by themselves, and occasionally wishes out loud for death just as his patients constantly do.

Susmita is wheeled in on a gurney through the men’s ward, where she is frightened by the ogling of the male residents. They are introduced as Nantu, a young man who has been disabled from birth (probably from cerebral palsy, although he’s being treated with Vitamin B):


Nantu sees Amin is making Susmita nervous and shoos him away

Mr. Shatadal, a belligerent older man on crutches who fantasizes about dying and being taken away by a white camel with a golden saddle blanket:

Mr. Shatadal

Mr. Shatadal eyes the new arrival, one of the few female residents

and Amin, a tall, withdrawn, intimidating man who was an astrophysicist before he had a nervous breakdown.


Amin stares openly at Susmita, blocking the path of her gurney

The handsome physical therapist Santu sets to work on the depressed Susmita, who agrees to work at therapy only to regain use of her hands and arms to kill herself. He stretches her limbs and painfully puts her face-down in a hammock when a bedsore begins. One night, against the orders of Dr. Mitra, Santu engages in what he calls “shock therapy”; he slides his hand up Susmita’s thigh under her clothing in order to deliberately remind her of the rape. In a panic, she moves a toe. This is hailed as a breakthrough instead of a violation of professional boundaries, and it fulfills the Disability Movie Cliche and ludicrous ableist conceit that disabled people can be cured by attention from the opposite sex.

The most realistic aspect of the movie Wheel Chair is the agonizingly slow pace of recovery for each resident. By the time Susmita is ready to return home two years after arrival, Nantu has progressed from learning his letters to slow reading (though everyone discourages him from hope of ever having a wife). Amin has displayed anger over conditions in the home, pushing Dr. Mitra over and then returning him to his wheelchair, and later writing an inscrutable equation on a slate. Mr. Shatadal reveals himself to be a self-made man from selling nuts and bolts to the American army at a huge markup, writes a large check to the home, and then suddenly goes blind and dies within minutes.

After Susmita returns to her mother’s home to begin a prescribed regimen of physical therapy and slow hunt-and-peck typing, Santu asks Dr. Mitra of the advisability of marrying her. Dr. Mitra assures him that she will be able to bear children, so Santu declares to Sumitra’s mother that he wants to “take on full responsibility” for her. Susmita is in tears at this… charming proposal, but though she ascribes to the common belief one must be able-bodied to be married she eventually acquiesces, saying that she’ll put down the returning strength of her upper body as capital and work for the rest. Santu and Susmita settle down into a house on a river, where Santu is last seen happily carrying Susmita to a wheelchair on a patio.

The Ex

The Ex is a movie about marital mishegoss with a twist. While there are plenty of movies about married couples where one or the other’s “exes” are re-encountered, usually to challenge marital fidelity, I think this is the first I have seen where the ex in question appears to have an obvious physical disability; he is in a wheelchair, said to be “paralyzed from the waist down”. Having worked his way up in the field of advertising, Chip has nevertheless (no wheelchair ramp to the ad agency is shown) accomplished more career success than Sofia’s husband Tom, who starts out as a chef, but in order to make the money to enable his wife to stay home when she has a baby, he moves to Ohio and takes a job with his father-in-law at the advertising company where Chip, the ex, is a co-worker.

Chip still wants to have a relationship with Sofia, and as a master manipulator of people and situations, he makes Tom look bad on his job, gets Sofia’s father fired, and appears to be making progress getting Sofia nearer to getting into bed with him. It is made clear elsewhere in the movie that Chip gets sympathy (and sex) from women. However, Tom, convinced that Chip is faking his physical disability, tangles with him on several occasions as their relationship gets increasingly hostile.

Strangely, perhaps because it is easier to portray on screen than the subtleties of office politics, Tom is more overtly concerned with the idea that Chip is faking his physical disability than with proving his attempts to effect Tom’s career sabotage or the fact that Chip is making time with his wife, though the latter is something which is sufficiently motivating for Tom to threaten Chip. On one occasion, Tom tries to expose Chip as a faker by getting him out of his wheelchair and pushing him down the stairs, convinced that the instinct for self-preservation will kick in and Chip with move his legs and right himself to avoid the fall, but Chip does not do this and Tom ends up looking even worse in front of others. Chip has Tom in a bind, because Tom feels guilty about having negative feelings about a man who can’t walk, and society condemns Tom for hostility towards a man in a wheelchair, no matter how deserving he may be. The one bright spot is that Chip has applied for a job in Spain, and, if he gets it, he will be leaving, after all. (Chip’s less obvious mental disability is that he is a sociopath.)

Everything seems to be going Chip’s way, but in order to establish to the audience that Chip is, indeed, a wheelchair villain, towards the end of the movie, he gives a movie villains’ monologue of the sort usually declaimed by James Bond movie villains and Dr. Evil. Chip, Tom, and Sofia are at a restaurant sitting around a table when Chip reveals that he has defeated Tom “in every possible way” including in the eyes of his Sofia, whom he invites on a plane to Spain.

But at the last minute, in order to effect a “happy ending” for the married couple and to imply the intervention of a Higher Power dealing out cosmic justice, the tables are turned on Chip: Sofia refuses Chip’s offer, and declares to Tom, “You couldn’t lose me even if you tried. And you’ve been trying really hard lately.” Chip, in the midst of gloating, reveals he _has_ been faking his disability “have you tried to get a parking spot at the mall during Christmas shopping season?”, stands up, and leaves the restaurant on foot, doing a victory dance while lifting his wheelchair over his head, looking into the window of the restaurant, but not into oncoming traffic, where a bus promptly runs him over. He gets paralyzed from the waist down for real this time, and (this surely has to be Divine Justice for his sexual misconduct) it is discovered that he has testicular cancer.

Tom and Sofia manage to get a job and an apartment in NYC, and settle down with baby Oliver, having gotten their nuclear family off to an enviably secure start.

Inside Man

You might think Inside Man‘s “Mobile Command Officer Rourke” is just another non-disabled actor plopped into a wheelchair for a bit part as the token cripple–there’s no way a uniformed policeman in a wheelchair could easily get inside a mobile command unit with narrow doorways and stairs–but Daryl “Chill” Mitchell is the real deal.

Born a biped in the Bronx, New York City, Mitchell enjoyed success as both a rapper in the ’90s and later as an actor in House Party and its sequel, Sgt. Bilko, Galaxy Quest, 10 Things I Hate About You, and the TV sitcoms The John Larroquette Show and Veronica’s Closet. He was paralyzed from the waist down by a motorcycle accident in 2001. Fortunately, Mitchell already had a disabled friend to show him the ropes, and support from friends including Denzel Washington and Chris Tucker allowed him to continue his acting career.

He has since appeared on TV shows Ed, Law and Order, Brothers, Desperate Housewives, and Wizards of Waverly Place, started the Daryl Mitchell Foundation, received the NAACP Image Award, and serves as a spokesperson for the Christopher Reeve Foundation.

My Own Love Song

My Own Love Song is a story about life after a car accident for a women who survived paraplegia and a stay in the psych ward. The movie opens with Jane Wyatt, a former singer, being chatted up by a man in a bar who seems to be into her, but realizes that he “has to go somewhere” after he spots her wheelchair.

Jane Wyatt has a son, but her child had been taken away to foster care by the State after the accident. While disability, sudden or not, should not mean that your children are taken away, it may be that the jurisdiction where the story is set has a law similar to the one in NY that states that when parents get a diagnosis of mental illness and/or become inpatients in a psychiatric hospital, their children must be removed from parental custody. There is lobbying in NY to get this law changed, though there are some merits to this approach.

It is because Jane feels that her house, her finances, and her capacity to act as an effective, loving parent after having been absent from her son’s life for so long are inadequate, that she hides a letter from her son, inviting her to his Communion party. The concealed letter is found after some snooping around the house on the part of Joey, her “buddy”, a black man with a stammer and a seeming anxiety problem who serves as her informal personal care attendant and “shadow”, and describes himself during the course of the picture as “an ex-fireman” and “her bodyguard”.

The problem is that he is also a “specialist who can talk to ghosts”, sees angels in the sky, and gets into physical confrontations with people who mock this belief in the supernatural. It is implied that Joey is a schizophrenic. There are a couple of well-designed scenes which depict his perception and the angels he presumably sees in a subtle fashion. (Just as magically and mystically, the parking lot of the motel where they sit and look at the moon has a petite wooden wheelchair ramp leading from the curb to the blacktop.)

While it is clear that Jane, who met Joey in the psych ward, does not share his beliefs about the supernatural, and is put in untoward situations with the neighbors and the authorities when he decompensates or escapes from the psychiatric hospital, she nevertheless considers that The System gave him a raw deal, lying to cover for him when the police and mental health authorities come to her door, looking for him and reminding her of the penalty for harboring a fugitive. (Situations like these are enough to make a schizophrenic paranoid.)

The two decide to leave town until the situation cools off, and set off in a car that, soon after, catches fire. Any self-respecting paraplegic would have thrown themselves out of the smoking car, but Jane waits for Joey to retrieve her and her wheelchair. Indeed, Jane often is shown with someone pushing her (which actually annoys many genuine paraplegics to the point that they remove the push handles from their wheelchairs). She largely depends on Joey day-to-day, even though there are times when he has the potential to be a danger to himself and others. She has a manual chair, a regular car without hand controls which someone else (usually Joey) drives.

Life has some unusual hazards for female paraplegics. While Jane seems to have the ability to go some places without Joey–she attends physical therapy sessions outside the home, how she gets there is not shown–she is on several occasions confronted with situations that range from vaguely creepy to genuinely dangerous, like the man she meets on her journey who offers to give her a shower, or a bubble bath, and asks if she can “feel anything”. He explains by saying “for a long time, I couldn’t feel anything in here (indicating his heart). I can walk, but I think I’m crippled, too”. He proves it when he takes off in her new (to her) car after nothing happens between them.

Jane, Joey, and Billie (a non-disabled woman they pick up who becomes something of a love interest for Joey despite her erstwhile married status) must continue their journey on inaccessible buses and trains. On one train platform, Billie decides to return to her plain life, without the nuts.

The movie comes to a presumably happy ending after Jane resumes her singing career (she somehow gets on stage at a honky-tonk in spite of there being no wheelchair ramp to the platform being in evidence), reconnects with her son and performs with Joey on guitar at the Communion party, and embarks on a relationship with Joey; schizophrenia, angel sightings, and all.

Warning: deaf and hard-of-hearing folks should not rent this movie from Netflix or buy it. Legende Films deliberately removed the captions from the rental DVDs in order to force people who need them to buy the DVD, and Netflix did not see fit to declare such disks defective. For this reason, My Own Love Song goes in the Disability Movie Hall of Shame.

The Haunted Airman

Based on the novel The Haunting of Toby Jugg, The Haunted Airman is set in a mansion in rural Wales during WWII.  The main character is a former RAF pilot who has been shot down and has ended up in a wheelchair due to his injuries.  However, his injuries are not soley physical, it is implied that he, like at least one other similar man in the tumbledown manor house being used as a makeshift hospital, is also suffering from PTSD, then known as “shell shock” or “battle fatigue”. 

Having not lived through WWII and possessing only a limited exposure to England, I cannot speak on whether the portrayal of the facilities and technology at this particular hospital is a realistic depiction of institutions of this kind.  But they are true to life in calling nurses “sister” and having them wear nun-like headdresses.  And they are pretty spot-on as concerning some things that patients often experience in any sort of hospital.  One of the early scenes in the movie shows the former pilot lying on a litter left in front of the hospital for what seems an indeterminate amount of time while people hurry by. 

Yes, in real life, patients really do get left lying around.  When he experiences incontinence and the nurse changes the bedsheets and tells him it’s nothing to worry about, but something that tends to happen “at the beginning”, that’s quite accurate too. (Real nurses are quite blase about things like this and talk about bodily functions openly, including the ones that embarrass most people.)

However, he’s got bigger problems than paraplegia or PTSD. It is hinted early in the picture that he is having or has the potential to have, an improper relationship with his aunt (aunt by marriage, at least), a thing that many people would find quite shocking, but it doesn’t seem to bother him, and the aunt seems amenable to it in the middle of the picture, holding hands with him and kissing him romantically during a visit with him.  On later visits, she grows more distant, presumably on the doctor’s advice.  By the end of the picture, she had repudiated that sort of relationship with him.  When he makes sexual overtures to her, she is unwilling… and then his Oedipus gets even more complex.

Where the film starts to diverge from reality, however, is in depicting some of the frightening, hallucinatory experiences that he has. 

It is true that the building in which he is in is an older building with a lot of dark wood and stone and shade trees is perhaps a theatre in which an overactive imagination can romp. Spiders are also prominently featured; perhaps they assume increasing importance to him because he is less able to avoid them with his present mobility-impairment and wheelchair use. The wheelchair they have him in is not the kind that he can push himself, and on one occasion when the nurse pushes it, she wheels him right into a big spiderweb.  Another reason that spiders assume additional importance is because he has a situation of enforced idleness, and it is perhaps fair to say that he notices them more than when he was working. 

Or maybe, there are just simply a whole lot of big, ugly spiders around. 

In spite of the large and prominently featured spiders, insects in numbers make an appearance, too.  At one point he sees a number of beetles walking by while he is in bed and he falls out of bed trying to chase them away. On another occasion when something like this happens, he drags himself away from his hospital room and into a bathroom, where he retreats to a bathtub, which (the viewer sees) has spiders in the drain.  The doctor who is treating him (it is hinted that this doctor is acting as a therapist of sorts whether or not he is actually recognized as a psychiatrist) characterizes it as an attempt to retreat to the womb and the amniotic fluid in spite of the fact that the bathtub in fact had no water.

It can be hard to follow this picture because it is sometimes unclear as to whether some of the things they show are hallucinations on the part of the airman, or real but unpleasant things (like the spiders) just setting an uncomfortable and “creepy” atmosphere.  I do not know whether this is deliberate on the part of the filmmakers or accidental as a limitation of the technology and/or the storyline.  But it is a reason why one of the nurses in the beginning of the movie told him “we don’t use the terms ‘mad’ and ‘normal’ around here.  Everyone here is a little bit psychotic”, she said, looking down through the window at one of the doctors, the one who would later endeavor to give him therapy.

For the teenage girls in your life, here’s The Haunted Airman 27 x 40 Movie Poster, featuring Robert Pattinson looking appropriately haunted.

The Launch: Luke Anderson

After an offroad cycling accident, Luke Anderson acquired a spinal cord injury. He talks in this video about how he is launched into trying out new things. One is film making. He speaks about overcoming barriers , fears and what he calls being a “stubbornly independent person” before his accident and how that has led him to new experiences.

(Via WheelieCatholic.)