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 synguĂ© 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.

Disability Bitch doesn’t hate The King’s Speech

The BBC’s Disability Bitch didn’t hate The King’s Speech, even though a non-disabled actor got the lead again:

Readers, I must be ill. This week, I went to the cinema and saw a film where a non-disabled man played a disabled monarch, and I didn’t find myself overcome with hatred.

The film in question was The King’s Speech. Colin Firth plays George VI, who had a severe stammer and feared public speaking, but managed to become a glorious orator with the assistance of an eccentric Australian speech therapist.

Usually I’d hate such sentimental pap, except it’s supposed to be historically accurate and was scripted by a bloke who stammers himself and it was, y’know, kinda quite good, actually.

Everyone knows that a big name actor playing a disabled character may as well just tattoo the word ‘Oscar’ on his forehead – can you say Forrest Gump? – and it’s no surprise that Firth has already won some big awards for this performance.

It’s become a boring clichĂ©. Yet again a Normal actor’s going to win big prizes for playing Abnormal.

I’m Disability Bitch, I’m supposed to be throwing popcorn at the screen in protest, I think. Instead, I merely shrugged and noted that there are informative articles about stammering in every single newspaper in the world this week. And I’m only slightly exaggerating.

I’m mainly just happy that there’s now a good portrayal in popular entertainment that doesn’t use stammering as a comedic device, and that it doesn’t involve sometime teen pop sensation Gareth Gates.

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.

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.