Running Time:  72 mins.                      Rating: x Stars/5 Stars

MPAA Rating: NR

Director: Emma Davie, Morag McKinnon

Genre: Documentary/Biography

Country: Denmark/UK

Language: English

Distributor: Scottish Documentary Institute


Though sorely in need of subtitles for those of us who live thousands of miles from Scotland, and to better understand the conversations that Neil Platt has with his wife and with the film audience, I AM BREATHING is an earnest look at the impending death of a fellow who is afflicted with Motor Neurone disease.

This dreaded illness, known in the U.S. as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, slowly deprives its victims of mobility, first in the feet, then traveling up through the body until the bedridden patient must be put on a ventilator to breathe.  In turn, the hands and arms lose their ability to move and ultimately the patient loses his power to speak, to swallow, and then to breathe.  We’re not surprised that Neil Platt, who is bedridden during most of the brief documentary, must use a speech-activated mechanism on his computer, where he is intent on composing a long letter to his beautiful one-year-old son about what his father was like.

The infant will have no problem figuring out his dad’s character since he has left abundant archival film, shown to us now and then during the story by directors Emma Davie and Morag McKinnon.  We see him at far happier moments, at his wedding where all the guests appear to know how to waltz, at the beach, with groups of friends.  In better days he has a huge head of hair and a well-trimmed beard exhibiting to the world that he and Louise have a marriage that seemed made in heaven.  But this was not to be.  What is extraordinarily painful to note is that Neil was an architect living in a spacious house, everything to live for, but now struggling to make his thirty-fifth birthday.  He had formulated a living will wherein his wife and doctor agreed to disconnect the ventilator when he could no longer swallow.

Neil Platt is no celebrity, the film exudes no chance of recovery, and for all we know there is not much of a “race for the cure” for this illness, the only thing worse being locked-in syndrome as depicted by the French actor Mathieu Amalric in THE DIVING BELL & THE BUTTERFLY.  In that celluloid the afflicted person is able to blink with only one eye, miraculously dictating a small book by blinking out each letter of the alphabet.

Though we do what we can to avoid the inevitability of death—attend movies, plunge ourselves into work, in short live fully—we are made more aware that death does not necessary come in our eightieth decade or later but can strike at any age.  And what’s more, death may not strike swiftly and painlessly.  As a downer, the doc may be a hard sell particularly outside of its native UK, but deserves to be seen for its sincerity and courage in tackling a most difficult subject.


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