Judge Joel Pearce is hopeless in motion, but that didn't stop him from appreciating Christopher Reeve's brave efforts.
"I have so much to live for. I also feel a responsibility to use my position on behalf of others who would never be heard."—Christopher Reeve
Reviewing this documentary is kind of like writing a critical review of Mother Theresa's memoir (if she had written one). Christopher Reeve (Superman) has become somewhat untouchable in the past decade, and for good reason. He became famous playing the most pleasant and heartfelt portrayal of Superman that we've ever seen. In May 1995, he had a horrible riding accident and was paralyzed from the neck down. Where most actors would disappear in shame and despair, Reeve fought on, fighting physically, emotionally, and politically to regain the use of his body. Unfortunately, he died before this project could be fully finished, but has left an impressive legacy that shines through Hope in Motion.
This documentary seeks to uncover Reeve's life after his accident in 1995. It shows the struggles that he went through, as well as the astonishing victories he achieved. It's rare that we get so frank and sincere a look into someone's life, and it all speaks to the bravery of Reeve as well as his son Matthew, who helped direct this two-part film.
Sitting down to watch Hope in Motion, I was expecting to get a fluffy, pleasant legacy piece, celebrating the affection that people had for Reeve. Of course, that affection and respect does come through, but that's not what really stands out here. Instead, I was floored by the genuine look we get into the life of a quadriplegic. Reeve had a horrible life after this accident, and he's willing to let us see those experiences in all their horror. In this way, we get to see Reeve at his best and his worst, and it allows us a far more accurate picture of who he is.
This isn't just an hour and a half of Christopher Reeve, though. Along the way, we also get to meet a number of other quadriplegics. When we think of people who are fully paralyzed, we have pity, certainly, because we think of it as a permanent condition. Reeve was fighting to change this issue, though, and met with a number of other people who managed to fight through their conditions to regain a certain amount of movement. There are quite a few of them in the world, people who are accomplishing the impossible in the face of doubt and uncertainty. It is a slow struggle, though, one that isn't helped by the struggle that these people face to use things such as stem cell research to help them recover. Reeve was also heavily into this activism, and there's no question where the makers of this film stand on that controversial issue.
The filmmaking itself stands in the very tall shadow of the figure at the center of the documentary. It has a lot of amateur footage, as well as some very simple interview footage. This presentation is as guileless as the storytelling itself, which is a good thing. Although the filmmakers do want to convince us of a number of things, there are no games being played to toy with our emotions. The emotional impact comes from the simplicity of the presentation and style, as well as the fact that we truly do have a person's life on display for us. Of course, that simplicity prevents Hope in Motion from being a truly great film or a truly great documentary, but I have no real complaints. This is a nearly homemade production that is told with honesty and heart. For the right audience, that can have more impact than the slickest, best-produced filmmaking.
In terms of the transfer, Hope in Motion is slightly less impressive. It is in a widescreen ratio, but hasn't been enhanced for widescreen televisions (despite what it says on the cover), and there are some problems with interlacing on progressive displays as well. The stereo sound does the job, but hasn't been as balanced as it could have been. It's occasionally hard to hear dialogue. It's probably not that important on this film, but it's certainly not a very strong transfer.
When it comes to special features, the disc is far more impressive. We get more interview segments with Christopher Reeve that didn't make the original film. It's an even more impressive interview when watched as a complete entity than when it's spread over the film. It asks (and answers) tough questions, and leaves few stones unturned. We also get interviews with other people suffering from similar disabilities, which help us to understand the psychology of people who are fighting to succeed with so many odds against them. Finally, there is a production featurette about the Paralysis Resource Center that Christopher and Dana Reeve started. This may be the real business of the film, an attempt to get more support for the organization.
In all, this is an encouraging and powerful look at Reeve's life. It shows the difference that individual people can make, even if those people are going through major struggles of their own. It shows the resilience of the human mind and heart, despite the occasional frailty of the human body. It is an unassuming tribute to a good person, and for that I can't really accuse it of anything. It has accomplished exactly what it set out to do, and will make a difference in the lives of the people who need to see it.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Arts Alliance America
• Interview with Christopher Reeve
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