Thursday, December 14, 2023



            For some reason we have been watching and enjoying a lot of movies about people with what are now called “special needs.” I’m not sure this is the proper term – it changes from time to time – but they are people with what might appear to be a “disability.” Read my examples and you will know what I mean.


            Sparrow’s Dance is about a woman who is emotionally unable to leave her apartment or to let anyone in. Then she has a plumbing emergency, and a handsome plumber shows up. I take it that she suffers from agoraphobia, though that term is never used. The film does a great job of showing the conflict that tears at her. It doesn’t really matter what her conflict is, for we all (me included) probably have some self-limiting psychological forces, and unlike the woman in the movie, we may not struggle hard to counter them.


            In The King of California, a man (played by Michael Douglas) is released from two years in a mental institution, into the care of his teen-aged daughter. He is convinced that Spanish gold is buried somewhere near his house. The father doesn’t appear to suffer from much inner conflict – he is confident that he is on the right path – but his daughter’s struggle with her role is the core of the movie. She is supporting her father, and she is torn about what to do with his quest for gold.     


            Ode to Joy portrays a man who suffers from a form of narcolepsy where experiences of joy render him unconscious. We see him pass out at his friend’s happy wedding, but he’s getting by OK thanks to his sheltered life and friends and colleagues who remind him of all the crap in the world when they see he might be dangerously happy. Then he falls in love . . ..


            In Living, a lifelong civil servant (played brilliantly by Bill Nighy – always a treat to watch) in London is locked into a rigid and sterile routine, until he receives a grave medical diagnosis and resolves to start living. The man’s psychological problem doesn’t have a medical term attached to it, and many of his fellow civil servants seem to have a mild version of the same affliction – maybe it’s called “being British.” It’s wonderful to watch him go through the process that lets him start living.


            Clouds of Sils Marie depicts a successful actress who is cast opposite a much younger Hollywood starlet, leading her to come to grips with what it means to be getting a bit older. I have some trouble sympathizing with her advanced age because the actress is played by Juliette Binoche, and “a bit older” is maybe early 40s. Still, it’s a great movie, and the issues are complex. And wait until you see the clouds!


            In Finding Home the protagonist has two “disabilities”: she’s a young (15, I believe) orphan, and she’s a woman in 1899. In an attempt to find her seaman father – gone for three years and presumed drowned, she disguises herself as a boy and joins a crew. The film is set in Denmark and Iceland, and most of all, at sea in the North Atlantic. The word “disability” is, of course, all wrong – it’s society with the problem, not her. This four-part series is very compelling.


            Forgotten Love portrays a once-respected surgeon has lost his family and his memory, but he gets a chance to reconnect with someone from his past. Netflix describes this as a “tear-jerker,” but so what? You got a problem with that?


            Ricky (spoiler alert!) tells the story of a baby who seems to be sprouting wings. This is hardly a disability, but as you might suspect, the winged baby presents some challenges to the family. I won’t spoil any more of this charming movie (Amazon)


            As I look over this list of movies about people with so-called “disabilities,” I note that only two of them are American. Not sure what that says about us. And not sure what compiling this list says about me. But what does occur to me is that some of the negative consequences of the “disabilities” are a product of how other people respond to differences. The movies are more about the responses than about the disabilities themselves.


EXTRA CREDIT:  Imagine, now, that someone is making a movie about you and your disability. What would that disability be? HINT: If you can’t think of your disability, ask your spouse or partner.

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