MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Directed by David Gordon Green. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany.
Jeff Bauman (Gyllenhaal) had no desire for celebrity, content to work his job as a chicken fryer at Costco and hang out with his family and friends in Boston. But then his on-again/off-again girlfriend Erin (Maslany) was running the 2013 Boston Marathon. Jeff thought that it would be fun to make a sign and cheer her on from the finish line. And then the two bombs went off. Jeff was standing by the blast and lost both of his legs below the knee. While recovering in the hospital, Jeff helped to identify one of the bombers.
Suddenly, Jeff became an iconic symbol for a city pulling itself together following a terrorist attack. He was a living example of what it meant to be “Boston Strong”. People recognized him on the street. His hard living, hard drinking family enjoyed the fame as well.
It was easy for folks to forget that Jeff was in the middle of a fight for his life, adjusting to the reality of being a double amputee with months of rehabilitation ahead of him. And then there was the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; Jeff never knew when it would hit and he would relive the terror of that morning.
Stronger is based on Jeff Bauman’s 2014 memoir and is enhanced by Bauman’s personal participation in the project. There is an honesty about the family scenes that reveal the messiness and conflicted relationships that are a part of the family ties that bind. Jeff’s mother Patty (Miranda Richardson) is smothering and sometimes coarse, but it is clear that love is behind her neediness (and Jeff encourages the codependency). There are also many humorous moments in the film to balance the painful scenes.
Stronger gains its greatest strength in the performances of Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany (from television’s Orphan Black) as Jeff and Erin. Maslany elevates the role of the faithful girlfriend into something full and rich, reminding the audience (and eventually Jeff) that tragedy makes demands on its victims as well as those who form the circle of support around them. Gyllenhaal conveys a spectrum of emotions primarily through facial expressions. There is a beautiful scene in which Jeff gets through a painful removal of surgical dressings by keeping his eyes focused on Erin.
This movie is a striking reminder that many people find exceptional courage when forced to face the challenges of life: cancer patients dealing with the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation treatments; women choosing to escape abusive marriages; people speaking up against racism and intolerance; military veterans living with the aftershocks of war; folks in recovery from drugs and other addictions; and the list goes on. It is good to remember that God’s desire is for no one to be alone at times of greatest need. Kingdom Strong!
Four halos: An inspiring film about unintentional as well as real heroism.
Two pitchforks: A lot of wicked swearing by the Boston locals; drinking/alcoholism; a brief sex scene with nudity; extremely brief but bloody flashback scenes.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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