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Megan Clark | Where’s the Craic?

‘My Left Foot’

Published: Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 07:11

My Left Foot” (1989) tells the story of Christy Brown, an Irish writer and artist with cerebral palsy. The film stars Daniel Day−Lewis and Brenda Fricker and was directed and co−written by Jim Sheridan, who also directed “In the Name of the Father” (1993).

Based on Christy Brown’s autobiography, the film follows Christy’s life from childhood to adulthood and moderate fame. Jim Sheridan’s script and Day−Lewis’s acting reveal the immense challenges Christy faces without making him seem helpless. In fact, the film portrays Christy as an incredibly strong character who tirelessly struggles to be heard.

The film and autobiography’s titles come from the fact that Christy only had control of his left foot. Thus, Christy used his left foot to write and paint. Through occupational therapy, he eventually learned to speak. However, as a child, he was considered mute and mentally disabled. In the film’s early scenes, a young Christy is often seen lying in a corner, ignored by everyone but his mother. Hugh O’Conor plays Christy as a child, brilliantly portraying Christy’s attempts to communicate with his family. After several failed attempts, Christy finally breaks through to his family by writing “MOTHER” on his floor, using chalk held between his toes. In both a touching and terribly sad moment, his father yells, “He’s a Brown, all right. Christy’s a Brown!” This scene depicts Christy finally coming out of his isolation and becoming a true part of his family. However, it also reveals that his father did not consider him part of the family until that moment. Throughout his life and throughout the film, Christy strives toward approval and inclusion but is frequently shut out due to his disability.

The adult Christy, as played by Day−Lewis, refuses to accept this. Through his everyday life, his writing and his painting, he demands to be heard. Upon receiving his Oscar for Best Actor, Day−Lewis said, “When he was alive, [Christy] needed very little encouragement to make his voice heard. Now, he needs a little more.” Ultimately, that is what this movie is about: making Christy Brown’s voice heard long after his death. Throughout the film, Christy’s family members warn others that he can be a bit cantankerous. As portrayed in the film, this propensity to be difficult is just Christy demanding to be recognized and understood on his own terms. While some people find this a difficult feat, others do not and accept Christy for who he is: a writer, a painter and an advocate for those with disabilities.

“My Left Foot” is graced by extremely talented actors and actresses. Brenda Fricker, who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role, plays Christy’s mother, the first person to accept him and recognize his talents. Christy’s mother has incredible insights into her son’s life. When no one else can even understand what he is saying, she can understand what he is feeling. The mother−son dynamic that Fricker and Day−Lewis establish early in the film makes these insights believable. Ray McAnally, who plays Christy’s father, imbues his character with just enough kindness to retain his humanity while acting as a dominating and withholding presence in Christy’s life. Day−Lewis, playing Christy from his adolescence into adulthood, gives a star−worthy performance. His Christy Brown is sensitive, kind, determined and occasionally difficult. He becomes Christy Brown physically and mentally. Day−Lewis’s performance makes viewers sit up and take note, just as Christy Brown’s remarkable life forced the world to pay attention.

Join me next time as I explain, both seriously and not so seriously, why Day−Lewis is the greatest actor working today.

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Megan Clark is a junior majoring in history. She can be reached at Megan.Clark@tufts.edu.

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