Gleason is a bold, brave and life affirming documentary, a film, argues Martin Carr, that is likely to change you personally…for the better. It arrives in UK cinemas March 17.
ALS (Amytropic Lateral Sclerosis) is a dignity stripping, humanity robbing degenerative brain disorder. Life expectancy beyond diagnosis is two to five years, depending on a number factors including age as it begins to shut down physical functions. First coordination, then balance, followed by speech, your capacity to walk and swallow then breathe. If those last two remain unaffected then people can carry on living but many, understandably, choose not to.
Brought into the public consciousness thanks to the Oscar winning The Theory of Everything and its inspiration Stephen Hawking, ALS has now found another public figure in the shape of Steve Gleason, an NFL defensive back for the New Orleans Saints until 2008. He became a figurehead for the city after it was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, but was diagnosed with ALS three years after retirement at 34. Shortly after finding out, himself and wife Michel also discovered they were expecting and Steve began creating video blogs for his unborn child. Four years later documentarian Clay Tweel inherited thirteen hundred hours of footage, which he shaped into the film which would become Gleason.
Two things quickly emerge through these video diaries which will affect you on a gut level. One that watching someone deal with this in a dramatisation is no emotional preparation for real life. And secondly there is honestly no limit to how strong people are when faced with seemingly insurmountable odds. Adversity and the desire to carry on through is a mantra personified minute to minute by Steve and Michel Gleason as they battle ALS. There are exchanges both verbal and otherwise which will reduce you to tears repeatedly, so candid, personal and uncensored are the moments we are honoured to share. However a bittersweet darkly comic vein runs through it also which will open your eyes, give you serious perspective and offer time for reflection. Anyone who watches this and then sees fit to complain about their lot in life needs a reality check.
From the midpoint on Gleason turns into a documentary of extremes, where the focus is less on the disease and more on Michel who is fighting to remember the person she fell in love with, as Steve is stripped away one piece at a time, one moment at a time. How both combat this and still remain a family is what makes Gleason both an uncomfortable experience and worthy of remembrance.
A documentary about ALS was never going to be an easy watch, especially if everything was captured on video camera. However Gleason is difficult viewing on more than one level as it repeatedly sucker punches you with raw emotion, unchecked reaction shots and uncensored moments of personal anguish. This documentary is bold, brave, life affirming and likely to change you personally; for the better.
Written by Martin Carr
Directed by: Clay Tweel
Written by: n/a
Starring: Steve Gleason
Released: 2016 / Genre: Documentary
Country: USA / IMDB
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Gleason is released in UK cinemas March 17.