Saturday 9 May 2009

A Good Man

14 years ago, Chris and Rachel told their parents they were planning to get married and that a baby was also on the way. The very next day, Rachel suffered a stroke that left her a quadriplegic for the rest of her life. A life, by the way, that her doctors didn't expect would last more than about 5-6 years. Director Safina Uberoi heard about the couple through her brother and decided to follow and document their current daily lives. Despite the tragic circumstances, while introducing the film Uberoi told the audience that it was OK to laugh at any point - Chris and Rachel have seen the movie and they laughed throughout it.

Maybe laughter is indeed the best medicine...Rachel has far exceeded the life span expected, given birth to 2 healthy sons (both that first one and the newborn we see in the film were both accidents) and is cared for by Chris on their farm in Australia. 14 years previous, a determined young Chris insisted after her stroke that the wedding go on as planned, that he would take care of her and that he would raise their child as well. He would not accept that she be placed in a home for the rest of her life. With help from both sets of parents as well as a caretaker for Rachel during the day, Chris manages to keep both his and his paralyzed wife's spirits up and to enjoy life as it comes. The laughter in the movie comes easy and often.

Of course, that doesn't mean everything is a breeze. Rachel still requires almost constant supervision and can only communicate emotions and basic Yes or No answers with her eyes. Uberoi doesn't shy away from the reality of Rachel's existence as she keeps the camera close on her face while she is fed, while she drools and while she has strong mood swings. As easy as Rachel laughs, she also wails with sadness. At one point Chris is discussing the day of the stroke and you can almost see it all replay in Rachel's eyes - and then it pours out.

In order to try to improve their financial situation, Chris and a partner are building a house that they intend to be the town's first brothel (named "First Choice"). They've worked out the business plan and they figure that once the operation is running smooth, they only need 10 "jobs" a night for the girls in the house to start making some profits. Uberoi admitted that this somewhat unique angle to the story was what clinched the decision to make the film. Not only does the building of the brothel keep Chris busy and away from the farm, but the business part is more challenging than he expected. They run into more opposition and less customer traffic than they planned while also having to deal with some of the dark side of the business - in other words, the customers. Chris' Dad gets off the best line of the film when asked about some of the moral outrage regarding the brothel: "Everybody's got a right to go to Hell in their own way".

Which brings us back to the family. Their moments together are the best part of the film and are quite touching at times. While interviewing the teenage son Kieron, he seems almost blasé about his Mom's condition: "I never knew her any other way". But as the conversation shifts to Rachel herself, he crumbles into a little boy weeping for his Mom. Chris and Rachel's parents have been through the ringer obviously (at one point her Mom admits that shortly after the stroke she had wished Rachel had simply died), but it's her Dad's face that bottles up all the emotion. It speaks volumes.

All four parents firmly believe that the only reason Rachel is still alive is Chris. Whether or not you really believe he can interpret Rachel's eye movements correctly or if he ever did have that affair that Rachel believes he did, he certainly appears devoted and dedicated to his family. "I'm not a bad man, but I'm not a good man" says Chris near the end of the film. At the very least, you could do a lot worse.

As the film fades to black at the end, you can hear both Chris and Rachel laughing. How fitting.


PIPER said...

Jesus Mary and Joseph.

I'm glad you saw this film Bob and you did a hell of a job reviewing it. I myself can not bring myself to watch it.

But it makes me feel good that there are people out there like Chris (brothel or not).

Bob Turnbull said...

Thanks Piper...Chris is really the one who makes the film very watchable. There are as I mentioned some emotional scenes, but his view of life (which really seems genuine) and his pretty constant good spirits makes the film enjoyable. He doesn't let his family wallow in pity and that translates to the audience.

But yeah, you can't help but put yourself in Chris' position throughout the film and think "Could I do that?" I hope I could and I think I could, but I still give him tons of credit.

Norm Farrell said...

An interesting exhibition of humanity where seemingly ordinary people were given an extraordinary challenge and each responds in ways that show strong character. As said in the film, the challenge made them better people.

Chris is indeed a good man and this is a good film.