Here was a movie I did not want to see. Too close to home. I read about it in the New York Times. Of course, I knew I would end up going. It was inevitable. A young filmmaker documents his descent into the horrors of MS. I had been there. In fact, I am still there. I was not bored with the storyline, only too familiar with it. The pain would be personal. I could feel it already.
Multiple sclerosis is progressive debilitating disease. MS also is a mind game. It is an illness of loss, which leaves us to constantly measure what we used to do and can do no longer. Jason DaSilva is a documentarian, diagnosed at a tender age with multiple sclerosis. He looks like a ten year old with facial hair, a babe in the woods.
Jason does not just battle MS. He cohabitates with primary progressive MS, virulent and virtually unstoppable. His slide starts fast. The condition moves quickly. The young man moves from cane to walker to scooter with breathtaking speed, almost as if the movie is being speeded up.
The film is about the evolution of approach and attitude, not just the toll on his body. When I Walk should be spoken in the past tense. DaSilva leaves his feet stunningly rapidly, presumably never to return. That is a mighty blow. Where he travels from there is a telling journey. The battle moves from his spine to his head. The skirmishes north of the neck become high drama.
Jason struggles to keep making films. He travels to places he has visited. In his head, he watches old films in preparation for new ones he sees in his mind’s eye and will not complete. Shooting from a sitting position and a new definition of mobility are roadblocks. His return to India is heartbreaking.
Jason’s struggle is tougher than mine, though there really is no hierarchy of suffering. I battle secondary progressive MS. These categories of MS are distinctions without a difference for the chronically healthy. We all look alike. But we travel different highways, some hillier and more treacherous than others. Jason is lost and struggles to find himself. His mother dishes out tough love so vehemently she either keeps Jason leaning forward or just needs a good smack.
The professional world presents endless challenges for the disabled. Too often, employers see us as damaged goods. Given the chance, we become good employees because we work so hard to prove ourselves, demonstrating we can still do it. Frankly, we are struggling with ourselves to convince the guy in the mirror that we still have the magic.
The social marketplace is tough and requires two extraordinary individuals to make it work. Jason and his girlfriend Alice share highly personal moments with us. Alice does not live in Fantasyland. She expresses her doubts and fears openly, eyes wide open and fully aware that as Jason can do less for himself, she must do more. Her role as caregiver becomes fulltime work. They are grownups beyond their years.
Their commitment to each other seems to know no bounds. When I Walk is a movie worth seeing. The film is less a treatment of MS than the story of a young couple facing challenges they did not invent and finding their way to happiness. Too many of us choose to be victims. Jason and Alice point us to a better way.