Fiona Shaw and Daniel Day-Lewis in 1989's "My Left Foot."

My Left Foot July 31, 2018  

case. Almost telepathically, a prepubescent Christy eventually came to show artistic faculty. And that he might even be something of a genius.   

 

In 1954, Christy, who had by then become a renowned painter, published a memoir, My Left Foot. The title was motivated by the facts that Christy’s left foot was the only part of his body he could dependably control, and that the book itself had been industriously typed with it. It was a best-seller; Christy became an international literary and artistic sensation.

 

A film adaptation of the autobiography, also called My Left Foot, was released in 1989. It was co-written and directed by Jim Sheridan, a filmmaker with a penchant for dramatically altering true stories to make for “great” entertainment, and it starred Daniel Day-Lewis, in one of his first transformative roles. It is an optimistic and arresting movie; it seeks to reveal the essence of a man who overcame his limitations, but it never sees its ambitions through in such a way shaded with unduly romanticism.

 

Christy is played by the 13-year-old Hugh O’Conor as a child, and from his late teenage years and onward, he is animated by Day-Lewis. Both characterizations are astounding: matchless examples of metamorphoses so complete that they come across like embodiments, not transitory performances. Exquisite, too, are Brenda Fricker, who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her contributions, as Christy’s quiet, compassionate mother, and Fiona Shaw, as Christy’s funny, understanding caretaker who helps connect her talented patient to the art world.

 

I liked My Left Foot. But in the throes of post-viewing do I find myself with reservations similar to the ones which bothered me after watching In the Name of the Father (1993), another Day-Lewis-slash-Sheridan feature. That film, based on a true story, also sought to be moving. But it was stirring, in part, because Sheridan had vastly modified the true story at hand. It was disconcerting: many of the events witnessed in the film had happened relatively recently and had caused great media rumblings, leaving little excuses for such sizable incisions. I felt it was, inherently, flippant to imply that someone’s real-life tragedy wasn’t worthy of being accurately dramatized. It is not abnormal to exclude certain parts of a nonfiction narrative when trying to construct a two-hour movie. But given the subject matter, and how liberally Sheridan hacked away fidelity, it was troublesome.

 

Sheridan expunges much of Christy’s story, though a lot of the erasing is understandable. Because so much of what its central figure did is worth celebrating, it is beneficial to heighten his accomplishments, and his life’s high points, while minimizing the blows of tragedies. Still, the erroneousness renders the movie a tad misleading.

 

Christy died, in 1981, at 49 after choking on a lamb chop during dinner. It was observed at the time of his death that his body was significantly bruised, which brought on concerns that his wife, the Englishwoman Mary Carr, whom he married in 1972, had abused him. At the time, there were already whisperings that Carr was unfaithful, and that her relationship with her husband was one-sided and had vituperative characteristics.

 

The movie ends around the time Christy and Carr first meet — just before the closing credits pop up, we are informed, via a screen message, that they will get married not long after the film concludes — but aren’t told that Christy died less than a decade later. The film also does not mention, or show, that Christy was married to a woman before Carr, and that the union soured once he began seeing Carr on the side.

 

The feature makes a point to show that Christy wasn’t always likable: he could be arrogant, and had problems with alcohol that could set his temper alight. In one of My Left Foot’s most gut-wrenching scenes, Christy is informed that his nurse, whom he loves, is getting married, which causes him to create a fuss in a restaurant. It has less to do with self-pity and more to do with a desire to hurt the woman he presumptively loves. In later sequences, we see that he is prone to picking fights; he execrates too-obvious commiseration. Clearly, the feature isn’t interested in romanticization. 

 

In lieu of how many things the movie does well, and how hard it works to portray Christy as he was, I wonder what it would have looked like had it stayed truer to its subject’s lived narrative. Its presentation of a happy ending is deceptive. And I ponder why Sheridan and his co-screenwriter, Shane Connaughton, included the little-seen Carr character at all, if misrepresentation was going to be so conspicuous. This is a movie of tremendous emotional power, and it is wonderfully performed. It does an excellent job delineating the individual whom I believe Christy might have been, too. Why, then, must it revise the experiences of a man it otherwise seems so intent on unerringly capturing? B+

S

hortly after his birth, in 1932, it was discovered that the Irishman Christy Brown, born into a Duggar-sized lower-class family, had cerebral palsy. His father and siblings, and everyone else in his native Dublin, went on not understanding the nature of the disorder for years. They believed Christy, with his pretzeled body and difficulty speaking, was simply dumb. But his mother, the affectionate Bridget, understood that this wasn’t the

DIRECTED BY

Jim Sheridan

 

STARRING

Daniel Day-Lewis

Ray McAnally

Brenda Fricker

Cyril Cusack

Fiona Shaw

Hugh O'Conor

Adrian Dunbar

Ruth McCabe

Alison Whelan

 

RATED

R

 

RELEASED IN

1990

 

RUNNING TIME

1 Hr., 43 Mins.