On Saturday, CougCenter attended the Seattle International Film Festival's premiere of "Gleason", a documentary following former Coug Steve Gleason's journey with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or ALS. The movie will be released in theaters on July 29th. You can check out the trailer above.
I, like many of you, have followed the life of former Coug and New Orlean Saint Steve Gleason since his diagnosis with ALS. From a distance, the struggles we've watched him and his family go through have been difficult to watch. But Steve's bravery to face this incurable disease head on has been inspiring to so many, including others suffering from its debilitating effects.
I expected this movie to get emotional and I certainly expected to cry at least once, watching someone slowly transform from athlete at their peak to a man trapped inside his own body which has betrayed him.
I did not expect to cry multiple times. Four times, to be exact.
The term "emotional roller coaster" does not do justice for the journey director Clay Tweel takes you on through 110 minutes. From watching Steve make video diaries for his son, Rivers, and sharing in occasional laughs or introspective moments with family members while he still has the ability to walk and talk, all the way to watching him attend a faith healer conference with his father, Mike, and wife, Michel, as he tumbles to the ground in front of a crowd in a Spokane meeting hall. You go from the inspiring moments Steve has had over the years, straight to the real-life realities, both physical and emotional, everyone is enduring.
Over a thousand hours of footage, taken over four years, explores not only the struggle Steve has with the disease as it slowly robs him of almost all bodily function, but his family's troubles in coping. Steve's struggles with ALS are real, heartbreaking, and unbearable, but the movie also explores what Michel goes through day-to-day, living with someone who needs 24 hour care and raising a small child. Her journey through this disease with Steve is a difficult one but it's also one I'm sure those close to other ALS patients go through every day. Near the end of the film, Michel says (and I'm paraphrasing) that she has lost a bit of herself and who she is since Steve's diagnosis. In another scene, she expresses guilt for not being more apologetic about forgetting to bring Rivers in to sit in Steve's lap at night.
For me, this is the most important part of the movie. Yes, we get a closer look at what Steve has gone through since 2011, but it's what the people around him are dealing that is the highlight. It's something family and friends of anyone with any kind of debilitating disease can relate to: the emotional pain of dealing with it on a daily basis and the guilt for feeling like your issues are somehow interfering with the care of your loved one. Nothing is easy on Steve, an understatement to be sure. But what gets lost so often in, not only his fight but others as well, is what everyone around you goes through. Watching someone you loved so much go through this and having to care for them at all hours of the day and night is a mental and physical struggle few of us could ever bare.
The raw emotion we see in this movie is rare in any documentary following an individual. You will laugh and seconds later, you will be crying. This is not one of those movies that you will want to watch over and over. This isn't a movie you may even want to watch a second time for what it does to you emotionally on first viewing.
It's a movie so good, though, that the impact will, without exaggeration, last a lifetime.
Michael's Grade: A+