I Am Breathing* Review

Film Still
  • I Am Breathing film still


An old-school heartbreaker on the ravages of motor neurone disease.

A film about a man suddenly locked inside his own body. His mind is fully functioning, but his creative outlets are limited. The love and good humour of his wife eases the suffering of this strange, often brutal ordeal, though her sadness is evident through beaming smiles and unflappable resolve. And how to explain all this to the younger generation who, due to genetics, may go through a similar transformation? It's also about words on the written page, the joys of expression and how important they are for transmitting inner thoughts and desires.

No, we're not talking about The Diving Bell And The Butterfly, but a lovely film by Emma Davie and Morag McKinnon which could be its documentary twin brother. I Am Breathing refers to the irony-dashed plight of Neil Platt who, in his thirties, developed motor neurone disease and, via a slow process of gradual muscular dysfunction and not after completing his 100th blog post, eventually gasped his last. And while a sense of impending doom and misery threatens to constantly rupture any hope for Neil and his close-knit family, the film offers a bittersweet celebration of life as much as it does a lamentation of death.

Initially, I Am Breathing focuses on the struggles of getting though each day, as Neil is now paralysed from the neck downwards and breathes with the aid of a ventilator. He could choke while eating, or a glass of water might spill on and damage the machinery – his life dangles on a thin thread. Davie and McKinnon sensitively float a Benjamin Button motif into proceedings which infers that Neil's deterioration sees him once more adopting the traits and limitations of a baby. Their young child is spoonfed while hankering to break free of its confines, and, tragically, the same is true of Neil.

Yet the film (or Neil) doesn't wallow in the grim inevitability of the situation, but transforms it into a cause for nostalgia and dark irony. Archive video footage and photographed are beautifully edited to emphasise the scale and pace of Neil's decline. They also in turn make his indefatigable nature seem all the more heartbreaking, having been given a portal of the kind of life he may have had. Though small and intimate in scale, I Am Breathing is a film which tackles huge question about how to live life when the finish line gets closer every day.

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