Hot Docs 2013: I Am Breathing Review (Paolo Kagaoan)

I Am Breathing

Featuring Neil Platt, Louise Platt and Oscar Platt

Directed by Morag McKinnon and Emma Davie


Let me talk about I Am Breathing’s obsession with visuals, which seems like a grim thing to consider while discussing a movie about a man with Motor Neurone Disease. The movie uses many close-ups – computer screens, feet sinking to and rising from a summer beach, Neil Platt’s face as his nose is attached to a breathing device, a digital clock projected on his bedroom ceiling. For one, the camera’s distance to its subjects imitates our eyes’ tendency to focus on specific things. Besides, these heightened senses are what Neil experiences because of his paralysis.

But there’s still this closer scope even when directors Morag McKinnon and Emma Davie incorporate footage of Neil when he was a virile man (in a way, he still has this vigour even in his new state). There’s this shot of him in front of rapids and a waterfall. There are others with him walking the streets of London and Edinborough, unaware that he’s on camera. Showing these settings would have created a different dynamic, but there’s this power in the intimate depiction of the sights and sounds of Neil’s life. It creates this impressionable character of this handsome, happy, cheeky man that we both celebrate and mourn with the people who have actually been in his life.

Neil lives in a healthy culture that constantly videotapes. Neil and his wife Louise are on the cusp of the Facebook generation, both having graduated from architecture school during 2003. This instinct to record accelerates when he wife Louise and son Oscar has come into his life. Neil and Louise address the camera as Oscar, these videos intended for the child who also personifies the couple’s idea of the future. This instinct becomes more poignant during the realization that Neil’s paralysis eventually leads to his mortality. But even with abundant recorded memories that they have, there’s this gnawing feeling that he expresses, thinking about which images and objects he must leave for his child, what context should they belong?

This quest to leave a legacy for his child shows a resilience, a quality that most documentary subjects have. His goal, other than hoping that his child remembers him, is to raise awareness for his disease that take five people a day in the UK. Technology and his body fails him, yet he exceeds most people in his perseverance in retaining a voice with humour and honesty, one that can relate to his audience. We also get a glimpse of his caring wife, adorable son and a supporting family. The documentary world is lucky to have seen such a frank, great person and we feel this emptiness when he has to go.


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Published by paolocase

I'm a little spongette of pop culture, mostly spending time and money in the movie theatre and TCM-like channels.

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