What does it mean to be human? To live a normal life. Does it mean you can run, jump, speak, eat, drink, make love. If this is the criteria to living a normal life, then Christy Brown (Daniel Day Lewis) life is anything but normal. Born with Cerebral Palsy, into a lower class Irish Catholic family, Christy finds most of these normal actions impossible.
Christy’s desire to be normal is something he experiences at an early age. As he stares longingly at his brothers and sisters as they head off to school. Each one patting him on the shoulder, as he lays on the floor, slumped against the wall, in their cramped brick home.
Christy spends most of his time with his protective yet supportive mother Bridget (Brenda Fricker). Who from an early stage believes that Christy is capable of far more than what his stern father believes. Christy’s father, Paddy Brown, (Ray McAnally) a stereotypical domineering and proud man doesn’t think much of his “crippled” son. He often feels sadness and anger at the boy’s predicament and distances himself from Christy as a means to swallow his feelings. It is not until Christy, using his left foot, spells out the word mother in chalk, on the house floor, does he begin to claim Christy as his son.
Even though his loving family tries their best to make him feel normal, building Christy a makeshift wheelbarrow which they use to wheel him about the town, including him in their nude magazine gawking, and placing him in the spin the bottle circle. Christy still longs for a more normal life.
As Christy grows up, he becomes more adept at using his left foot an even takes up painting as a hobby. One day, Christy paints a picture for his crush, a girl he met in the kissing circle. Who quickly returns the picture, rejecting him, and again returning him back to his unnormal life.
As time passes, Christy becomes an accomplished artist. Christy’s paintings catch the eye of Dr. Eileen Cole (Fiona Shaw), who runs a school for cerebral palsy patients. Christy is instantly smitten by Eileen warmth, kindness, and beauty. Eileen, persuades a friend of hers to hold an exhibition of Christy’s artwork. The exhibition is a great success and he leaves to celebrate at dinner with Eileen and unbeknownst to Christy, her fiance.
Christy drunk both off expensive wine and his love for Eileen, expresses his love for her out loud at the dinner table. Elieen explains that she does love Christy. However, it is platonic love, and she is engaged to be married. This is an incredible scene, brilliantly acted by Daniel Day Lewis and Fiona Shaw.
As a result of his heartbreak, Christy considers suicide, believing that he will never find someone who loves him. Love, is the seemingly missing component of Christy’s normal life.
After the death of his father from stroke, and the subsequent brawl he starts at his dad’s local bar. He begins writing his biography, My Left Foot.
As time passes. Christy makes up with Eileen, becoming friends again with the first person outside his family to love him. Eileen invites him to a fundraiser for Cerebral Palsy where he meets his future wife Mary Carr (Ruth McCabe). A caretaker who spends time with him at the fundraiser.
Even though all Christy longed for was normalcy, to live a normal life. We see through the course of the film that Christy, even restricted to his wheelchair, has lived a life just as or even more normal than most of society. He has experienced fear, exuberance, depression, lust, love and loss. All the emotions and focal points in our lives that really make us human, that make us normal.
It is not the ability to do things, it is the ability to feel things that is important.
My Left Foot is a powerful film, with two incredible, yet different performances. Both actors use their bodies in different ways resulting in two mesmerizing performances. The dinner scene alone is reason enough to have given Daniel Day Lewis his first Oscar. However, it is his full commitment to the role that makes his performance so powerful. You can sense Christy frustration with every facial tick and vocal moan. On the opposite end, Brenda Fricker has an equally powerful performance delivered through her stoic confidence. Emoting just enough at the right moments to deliver the greatest impact. Next time you watch the movie follow her eyes. Her performance also resulted in her first Oscar as well. The award was also the first for Irish actress.
My Left Foot is a good semi-biographically film, about what it means to be normal, with two great performances.
“You can escape purgatory, but you can’t escape Hell.” - Priest in My Left Foot
This has been day 1 of 30 VHS In 30 DAYS. My journey to the center of VHS Hell. Special thanks to I Luv Video in Austin, The World’s Largest Video Store, for being my spiritual and literal guide through VHS purgatory.