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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Breathe -- Andy Serkis' directorial debut -- is based on the true story of Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield), who became paralyzed after contracting polio in the late 1950s. Some blood is spilled as part of his medical condition (enough to upset young/particularly sensitive kids), a married couple cuddles (and, it's implied, gets up to some intimate touching), there are a couple of swear words, and adults drink in social situations. But overall this is an uplifting, feel-good true story of someone with severe disabilities who not only survives but perseveres and thrives with the help of his empathetic friends and courageous wife (Claire Foy). It does bring up the topic of assisted suicide, taking a stance that not all viewers will agree with.
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What's the story?
Andy Serkis' directorial debut, BREATHE, tells the true story of Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield), a vital, globetrotting young Englishman struck down by polio in the late 1950s. Despite his resulting paralysis (everything below the neck) and despair, Robin's courageous wife, Diana (Claire Foy), won't let him give up on life. With the help of loving family and friends (including twins played by Tom Hollander and an inventor played by Hugh Bonneville), the Cavendishes become noted innovators and make an extremely positive mark on the world, helping many people in similar situations.
Is it any good?
In his directorial debut, Serkis keeps the focus tightly on the characters -- and reaps the rewards, especially from Foy's superb performance as Diana. She simply won't allow Robin to give up on life. For starters, she helps relieve his depression by doing the then-unthinkable: taking him out of the hospital to live at home. Garfield, Hollander, and Bonneville also impress in their roles. Director Serkis is known, of course, as the world's premier performance-capture artist (Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, the titular ape in King Kong, Caesar in the new Planet of the Apes movies). But just as, all along, his work in that area has really been about acting, here he keeps the cinematic tricks to a minimum in order to let the performances ... breathe. His direction and William Nicholson's script move with admirable economy, conveying the passage of time and important moments smoothly, without paying short shrift to emotional resonances.
And now back to Foy, whose performance is rich, detailed, and alive to every nuance of the movie. She's soulful and reactive without overplaying her hand. When she learns how serious Robin's condition is, you can see layers within her: the proper Englishwoman, staying strong in the moment; the devastated young wife and lover; the mother-to-be realizing how different her future is going to be than what she had thought just moments ago. She's also full of life, finding the love and joy in the family's world, post-diagnosis. Her Diana is strong and extremely capable, brave without being invulnerable. The entire cast is responsible for believably populating the world that Serkis creates, but Foy's Diana is clearly the glue holding it all together. And for those wondering about the film's accuracy: Yes, it's a pretty clean view of a long struggle, but for what it's worth, the Cavendishes' son, Jonathan, is one of the producers.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Breathe portrays someone with severe disabilities. How does it compare to how people with disabilities are typically depicted in movies or on TV? And how does that compare to real life?
Breathe takes place in a time before those with severe disabilities were typically able to get out of their hospital rooms much, if at all. Can you imagine what that would be like? Can you imagine how things would change for someone who was suddenly able to get outside (and keep living)?
How accurate do you think the movie is compared to what actually happened? Why might filmmakers choose to tweak the facts in movies that are based on true stories?
What did you think of the decision Robin made at the end, and the way his family and friends responded? What do you think you'd have done in his place? In theirs?
- In theaters: October 13, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: January 2, 2018
- Cast: Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Tom Hollander, Hugh Bonneville
- Director: Andy Serkis
- Studio: Bleecker Street
- Genre: Drama
- Character strengths: Courage, Empathy, Perseverance
- Run time: 117 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: mature thematic material including some bloody medical images
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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