Movie Review: ‘Breathe’ Advocates Overcoming Polio for the Sake of Picnics

CREDIT: Laurie Sparham/Bleecker Street/Participant Media

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Tom Hollander

Director: Andy Serkis

Running Time: 117 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for the Medical Realities of Treating Polio

Release Date: October 13, 2017 (Limited)

It’s amazing what a change of scenery can do. After Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield)  is confined to a hospital bed due to paralysis from polio, he is all set to be resigned to a quick death. But then his wife Diana (Claire Foy) springs him out against doctor’s orders and gets him set up more permanently with a ventilator at home. They gradually become even more adventurous, lugging Robin (and the machine keeping him alive) along on a vacation to Spain and a medical conference in Germany. With Diana, their son Jonathan, dog Bengy, and plenty of other friends and family accompanying him on all these experiences, polio is no big whoop. He has plenty of reasons to live and remains unfailingly his slyly humorous self, now with an extra added gallows edge.

As dramatized in the film, Cavendish died in 1994 at the age of 64, 36 years after contracting polio, making him one of the longest-living responauts in British history. “Responaut” refers to someone who is permanently dependent upon a ventilator for breathing. It is also just a cool word in and of itself. Unfortunately, Breathe only uses that word once. It is simply an unconscionable fail to leave that opportunity on the table. This could have been a much more twisted and radical movie if its most commonly used word were “responaut.” I think the real Robin would have approved.

As it is, though, it is a perfectly agreeable film about defying the medical status quo and basking in the English countryside. The latter especially. Breathe would probably claim its raison d’ȇtre is the power of convincing medical professionals to go deeper and see towards the future. And indeed there are so many scenes of people being amazed that polio patients are actually able to go outside. But I see what Englishman Andy Serkis, in his directorial debut, is really up to. His message is clear: if you’re a Brit, paralysis is no big deal, so long as you can go out and picnic while taking in all the lush greenery, dense trees, beautiful fountains, and cricket matches. Do we have some stealth environmentalism going on here? Let’s learn from the past and not let Mother Nature contract polio!

Breathe is Recommended If You Like: Beautiful vistas, A Beautiful Mind, Inspiration to get yourself through medical school

Grade: 2.75 out of 5 Disabled “Prisoners”

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