FILM REVIEW: Breathe
DIRECTOR: Andy Serkis
Review by Hubert Lawrence Yeo.
A man who defies his medical prognosis and, together with his wife and good friends, sets an exemplary legacy for disabled people around the world to live life as they should: with courage, love and a sense of adventure. Breathe, directed by Andy Serkis in his directorial debut, is inspired by and centred around the parents of the film’s executive producer, Jonathan Cavendish. Robert and Diana Cavendish (played by Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy) are pictured falling in love against a picturesque English countryside before disaster strikes – Robin is diagnosed with the poliovirus while honeymooning in Kenya, moments after Diana told him she is expecting their child, Jonathan.
The poliovirus renders Robin paralysed from his neck down as his nervous system loses its function, leaving him unable to lead the life of adventure and wonder he promised Diana, as well as being unable to properly care for his son. He now requires the help of a ventilator to breathe – hence the movie’s title – and Robert struggles with depression and the desire to die. Garfield’s performance of Cavendish here and throughout the entire film was controlled and nuanced, accurately highlighting the myriad of emotions and thoughts someone in such a predicament would be subject to.
However, the film’s emphasis does not rest on Robin singularly, but is shared in equal measure with his community of friends and family as well – professor Teddy Hall (played by Hugh Bonneville); Diana’s twin brothers, Bloggs and David Blacker (played by Tom Hollander); as well as Robin and Diana’s son, Jonathan Cavendish (played by Dean-Charles Chapman) are dependably and unfailingly seen by Robin’s side following his illness. Robin spends most of his years, following his polio infection, tirelessly fighting for greater opportunities and accessibility for the disabled community, but such zest for life had only developed because his pillars of support were there to tide him through his period of depression and guilt – Robin was paying forward the gift of life his friends and family had given him.
Films which are centred around the inspirational life of real individuals are often more difficult to direct and produce than other genres, in my opinion. They are a delicate balance between veracity of events on the one hand and dramatization for entertainment on the other. Acclaim is determined by the actors and actresses, and their ability to convey concrete feelings and emotions – imperative for delivering the movie’s underpinning lessons and subtexts accurately. All these elements are weaved together through a necessarily tight yet multi-layered storyboard and script. While Breathe does border on the cliché and conventional at certain points, its compact, focused and honest story-telling, coupled with an incredible performance from Garfield, makes this movie a heartwarming but yet tearjerking watch.
ABOUT THE WRITER
“Our one goal is to give the world a taste of peace, friendship, and understanding through the visual arts, the art of celebration of life.”
– Steven Spielberg