Coffee and Opinions

My two cents on stuff

Recent documentaries I watched

My reviews on three documentaries I watched recently: “Autism In Love,” “The Genius of Marian,” and “Transfatty Lives.”

Autism In Love

This was a really captivating documentary.

In our society, conversations about love and sex are typically so loaded with subtext - however, people with autism lack the social finesse and “antenna” to navigate that minefield - even more so than the average person. Watching them is like watching our own struggles under a magnifying glass.

My 19-year-old son is visiting right now (spending most of his time playing videogames), but he happened to catch a few minutes of this (while walking to the fridge for the umpteenth time today) and actually sat down and watched the rest of the documentary. We were cheering on the young guy who tried to understand what women are all about and how he could find a partner so he wouldn’t have to be lonely anymore… It was hysterically funny and devastatingly heartbreaking at the same time.

Just a couple drawbacks - it did feel the film (especially these scenes with the very autistic young guy) were a bit exploitative. (As my son remarked - this young guy is the funniest comedian ever - without knowing he is a comedian.) And the toils and travails of the adult couple seemed somewhat less authentic. If the film hadn’t told me so, I probably wouldn’t have guessed that the woman was actually autistic… she seemed very high-functioning, to say the least, and at times emotionally manipulative. Both my son and I were aggravated at how staged her behavior seemed, especially during the scene at the end (I won’t spoil it for the viewer). Maybe that kind of posturing is some kind of learned coping mechanism, but regardless, it was quite annoying.

Nevertheless, a great documentary on so many levels.

The Genius of Marian

Another great documentary that I enjoyed watching. But I admit, part of my interest was also getting a close, intimate look into the lives of a very wealthy family. Not that this was in any shape or form mentioned in the narrative… The wealth just seemed like a nonchalant backdrop to it all. The filmmaker/son lives in the wealth bubble, so it’s clearly insignificant to him. This is about his mother’s disease.

But the money does seem like a dominant aspect in their lives. At one point early on, the Alzheimer-afflicted woman mentions that “her father screwed up” when she was a child, which put an end to her life as a “princess.” (Later we learn it was because he had to sell the hotel that they lived in.) She went on to marry a very wealthy man, laughingly pointing out that it was, of course, important to her that he had money.

If she wasn’t struggling with a deadly disease, I’d find a woman talking like this fairly hideous.

Her mother, who was also afflicted by the disease, seems like the far more interesting character… an artist who apparently never lost her positive spirit and sense of humor, even when her memory was almost completely gone. I would have enjoyed learning much more about her, but of course with her daughter’s memory fading, there is only so much second- or third-hand knowedge the documentary can dig up about the filmmaker’s grandmother Marian.

Transfatty Lives

This was a very challenging documentary. Interestingly it wasn’t very highly rated on Netflix. It still had me glued to the screen until the end.

It’s about a fairly whimsical, careless DJ / filmmaker / internet personality who gets afflicted by ALS and sees his life change radically. (His therapist calls getting a fatal disease as “Enlightenment by Shotgun.” To me that was the best line in the whole film. It is recounted by Transfatty himself and we never get to meet this therapist… I’d probably watch a whole movie about him/her, just based on this line.)

He falls in love and has a child at an advanced stage of the disease. His new mission in life is to see his son grow up, even though the mother and child drop out of his life fairly quickly and move 1000 miles away. (This, as some other stuff, is never fully explained; just like we see his dad a lot in the first half of the documentary, but not anymore later on.)

You can’t watch this documentary without asking yourself… what would I do? If you can’t do anything but lie in bed, unable to move a muscle, unable to participate in your child’s life, feeding and breathing through tubes… is this still a life worth living?

Another question… was it the a great blessing, or an additional tragedy, that Transfatty had that short-lived romance and the child that came from it? Coming to terms with death is difficult enough on your own. When you have a child, it’s unfathomable.

While a lot of parts are extrememly difficult to watch, what makes this documentary bearable is that Transfatty has such a great smile and fantastic sense of humor. He is full of life, even when is body completely isn’t.

***

A couple years ago I was volunteering at the local Veteran’s hospital; there was a young man who was paralyzed from the neck down. I did not recognize his disability immediately and tried to hand him a glass of soda. (He just nodded for me to put it on the table beside him.) I sometimes still think of that young man when I walk through the woods or run the fitness trail. Having a functioning body is such an enormous privilege that we completeley take for granted, day in and day out. Reaching for that glass of soda… nothing could be more easy or natural, right?

I would recommend “Transfatty Lives” to anyone… and if you have the chance to watch it with someone else, you’ll probably learn a lot about the other person when you talk about it afterwards. (Documentaries that allow you to do this are the best.) While I watched it by myself, I did think a lot about it afterwards. Not all thoughts were comfortable, but that’s what made this so much worth watching…


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