My Left Foot: The Story of Christy Brown (1989)

Posted: April 8, 2012 in Biography, Drama

Christy Brown was born with an unfortunate ailment, cerebral palsy. At a young age, it is believed that he is mentally retarded and basically will remain a vegetable for his entire life. Taken care of by his large Irish family, he is both loved and seen as a burden on the family. In a brief moment of determination, Christy strains himself to use his left foot to write on the floor with chalk, showing his masked intelligence. From this point forward, his family, particularly his mother, strive to support him as he continues to struggle for small victories of independence. With the help of a tutor, Christy is able to develop an unlikely passion and talent for writing and painting.

Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis/Hugh O’Conor (Christy Brown), Brenda Fricker (Mrs. Brown), Alison Whelan (Sheila), Kirsten Sheridan (Sharon), Declan Croghan (Tom), Eanna MacLiam (Benny), Marie Conremme (Sadie), Fiona Shaw (Dr. Eileen Cole), Ray McAnally (Mr. Brown)

This film was recognized for its strength in acting, particularly through the performance of Daniel Day-Lewis. Though Hugh O’Connor played the young Christy Brown with a surprising realism and sense of emotional pain, Day-Lewis portrays Christy’s life as he grew into a young adult and an eventual success. There is a similar pain that Day-Lewis projects in his adult representation but he has a different sense of arrogance in association with his success as an artist. Brenda Fricker serves as his strong-willed mother and is able to command attention in several scenes with a combination of passion and humility. Ray McAnally plays Christy’s father, projecting a man struggling to provide for his large family. His strong will tends to come off more as stubbornness, but serves as a good contrast to his wife’s character. The rest of the Brown family was portrayed by Kirsten Sheridan (Sharon), Alison Whelan (Sheila), Eanna MacLiam (Benny), Declan Croghan (Tom) and Marie Conremme (Sadie). Also important to the story is Fiona Shaw, who plays Dr. Eileen Cole. Her involvement is what help Day-Lewis’s character hone his abilities to break through the cerebral palsy.

  

Jim Sheridan’s film highlights the real story of Christy Brown and his life struggle with cerebral palsy. As a young child, he struggled to even communicate a single thought, as he had not learned how to speak and had extremely limited movement in just flailing his upper body and moving his left foot. In a moment of focus, he is able to spell out mother with chalk on the floor, just in a moment when his father was considering how frustrating his son’s condition was. This did not immediately translate into hiring a teacher, but eventually Dr. Eileen Cole was brought in to help him learn how to control his ability to speak. His brothers were very supportive of his ability to feel like a complete person by letting him engage in many of their group activities, including soccer. He struggled with women, as no one outside of his family seemed to understand his struggle, though he gained a large following as an artist as he honed his skills with using his left foot and dictated his struggles through life in an autobiography.

  

The story’s environment is set up well to understand the struggles the family encountered as a large group with limited means and a child with a physical ailment. The Irish identity was also highlighted through the dialect and culturally relevant food. While Day-Lewis was recognized for his acting ability in this film, the young O’Connor was just as impressive when one considers his experience and age as an actor. The film is oddly rated-R, possibly due to the periodic language but it would clearly be PG-13 when considering both its content and language. In the end, the film was highly regarded and was successful in earning Oscars for best actor and supporting actress. It was also nominated for best director, picture and screenplay.

My Left Foot is a gritty look at the life of a man who grew up with the debilitating condition of cerebral palsy, displaying some impressive acting ability.

Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5

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