Published Jun 20, 2013As framed, Emma David and Morag McKinnon's documentary about Neil Platt, a father and husband diagnosed with ALS/MND (Motor Neurone Disease) at the age of 33, starts with the idea of a personal blog as a documentation of his memory for his infant son, Oscar. Limited to his chair and bed, we utilizes a computer dictation system to write a letter to his son while updating his blog with his physical deterioration and resulting inner-struggles, mostly commenting on the nature of time and how unappreciative he was of it while still able bodied.
Smartly, David and McKinnon take advantage of the snippets of home footage Platt and his wife have of vacations and outings, telling the story of how they met and came to fall in love with the images to support it. As supported by a simple but evocative soundtrack and a visual trajectory of the night sky, it makes touching and terrifying the onset of the disease, with Platt mentioning how, at first, while on a trip, he noticed his foot slapping down and assumed he simply needed new shoes.
Later blog entries, which divide up the very intimate footage of the young family dealing with the quotidian struggles of this rapidly progressing illness, detail the eventual degradation of muscle movement until all that's left is his ability to speak and swallow.
Rather that dwell on the grim inevitability of it all, I am Breathing is more of a celebration of life and a reflection of what matters. Platt is candid about his fears and the intense dread he feels about the eventuality of losing the function of his mouth and throat, but he's also quite interested in communicating his thoughts about how he perceives himself. Being little more than bone, muscle and blood, he contemplates what made him a person for the three decades leading up to being diagnosed.
These observations, along with his wife's refreshing honesty about getting through it all by being inspired by his bravery help this doc transcend the issue or pity format, speaking to any audience about what it means to make the most of the little time you have. And while it may seem tacky to note the significance of being able to universalize a subject that's so specific, it does go far in making personal what could easily be perceived—by the callous—as someone else's problem. (Kinosmith)