Based off Christy Brown’s autobiography, My Left Foot tells the story of his life as an artist, poet and writer in Ireland with cerebral palsy. Christy (Daniel Day-Lewis as an adult, Hugh O’Conor as a child) was born into a poor Irish Catholic family who tend to have a new child every year or so. From the moment Christy is born, his father seems withdrawn and upset due to his son’s condition. As a boy, we see Christy is a loved outcast of the family, assumed to be both physically and mentally handicapped. All he can do is sit in a little nook under the staircase, receiving sympathetic looks as the rest of his siblings leave for school. The only one who treats him with any real humanity is his mother (Brenda Fricker).
It isn’t until Christy is about nine years old that his family even knows that he can communicate. As a child, he does not talk and everyone, especially his father (Ray McAnally), seems to just assume he’s inept. Christy learns that he can control his left foot and demonstrates his ability to think and communicate by writing “mother” on the floor in chalk. This accomplishment turns the whole family to suddenly value Christy and see that he has great intelect.
As Christy grows into his late teens and into adulthood, he deals with the adolescent issues in his own way and turns his left foot abilities to painting and poetry. While he is accepted by his siblings, showing his worth to their friends is more challenging, especially with the girls. At one point, Christy paints a picture for a girl. She swoons, thinking it is from his brother, Tommy, but then is embarrassed and gives it back to Christy, breaking his heart.
With Christy showing more and more talent in his painting, his mother saves up for a wheelchair and hires Dr. Eileen Cole (Fiona Shaw) to teach him speech therapy and help accelerate his artistic career. Christy has never received so much positive attention from a woman before and starts to mistake their relationship as love, sending him into an alcohol fueled depression where he contemplates suicide. Through this dark chapter of Christy’s life, he finds new awakenings in his artistic mindset and sets out to write his story.
By now, most film fans know the scene from Tropic Thunder about never playing a fully disabled person with no redeemable qualities. If you have caught the film unedited, the rather crude phrase is, “Never go full retard.” Though Robert Downy Jr. only mentions mentally disabled characters, I feel that Daniel Day-Lewis in his Oscar winning role as Christy Brown is worthy of praise in this razor’s edge brand of acting. To portray someone with a case of cerebral palsy with accuracy and decency is one of the greatest challenges I can imagine an actor having. Daniel Day-Lewis does a fantastic job here keeping Christy authentic and letting his wonderfully smart alic personality shine through a debilitating condition that can often define who someone is, no matter their intellect. Between the movements, the stance in the wheelchair and the speech patterns Daniel Day-Lewis portrays this condition honestly without falling into an offensive caricature. It isn’t long into the film that we get over the initial shock of the condition and stop seeing Christy as a man with cerebral palsy, but simply a man of flesh, blood, with poetic genius and an artist’s heart. Daniel Day-Lewis can worm Christy straight into your heart and then send him into a downward spiral with such ease and gusto, I would rate this performance over his other Oscar winning role in There Will Be Blood.
The story of Christy Brown told here is captivating and inspiring. What I liked most is that Christy is not shown to be a perfect human being despite his imperfect condition. He has some huge faults that make him all the more human. The embarrassing, drunken scene he makes in a restaurant is one of the greatest feats I’ve seen from any actor or director on such a simple scale. For those interested in the life of Christy Brown or want to see Daniel Day-Lewis in his greatest role, My Left Foot is a must see.
“All is nothing, therefore nothing must end.”