Running Time: 101 minutes
Director: Clay Tweel
Paul Gleason: “I’m afraid to walk in public, because people look at me. But I’m not going to stop. I’m afraid because if I want to commune with my friend Shad (Meier), I have to ask him to cut my chicken for me. But I did it. And I’m afraid to go back and see my teammates and coaches because I know that I’ll feel envy. But I’m going to do it anyway. Because fear is just a feeling, and if you can acknowledge that fear, digest that fear and overcome it, the rewards are incredible.”
Any type of illness, especially a major or traumatic illness are long standing tropes within non-fictional films or films made about real people – however in the past fifteen years there has been a trend of people creating documentaries about themselves or loved ones who are facing the struggle of a terminal illness – this is the main thrust of “Gleason” (2016), what makes this unique is the main character is tied, or associated to a city that has itself recovered from one of the worst man made disasters in history, New Orleans. The disease in this case is ALS.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease and motor neuron disease (MND), is a specific disease that causes the death of neurons, which control voluntary muscles. Some also use the term “motor neuron disease” for a group of conditions of which ALS is the most common. ALS is characterized by stiff muscles, muscle twitching, and gradually worsening weakness due to muscles decreasing in size. This results in difficulty in speaking, swallowing, and eventually breathing. The average survival from onset to death is two to four years. About 10% survive longer than 10 years. In 2014 videos of the ice bucket challenge went viral on the Internet and increased public awareness.
This film follows former professional football player Steve Gleason after he is diagnosed with ALS and decides to make a video diary for his unborn son, as he, his wife, and their friends and family work to raise money for ALS patients as his disease progresses. Gleason is especially well known for his blocked punt in a 2006 game that became a symbol of recovery in New Orleans in the team’s first home game after Hurricane Katrina, a event so important that it is immortalized outside the stadium where it took place in bronze.
Through the running time of this film we see the highs and lows of both Steve and all of his family. Steve starts to accept what is happening to him and has to decide at some point about his future. Michel, his wife is frank in all of the footage and is very honest in all of the interviews. She finds it hard and once their son is born it is truly effecting to see how a one year old can operate better than his own father.
What is quite different about this documentary is the courage that Steve shows in almost all the scenes and we also see him become a catalyst for change in terms of helping other ALS sufferers receive some relief as well as helping to make their short-term goals a reality. Steve ends up creating new laws that will assist ALS sufferers and families equip themselves with tools and equipment that the federal government will pay for.
This is a heart wrenching documentary but it has a point to it and will be of benefit to people who are suffering from any disease as wll as their families and support people – I recommend this highly as it covers many bases in its running time.
“Gleason” is out now on DVD.
If you enjoyed this then watch:
“The Theory of Everything” (2014)
“The Times of Harvey Milk” (1984)
“The Suicide Tourist” (2007)