It’s hard to write about a film without getting emotional and Gleason will pull on every heart string that you possess.
As an NFL fan, the block punt Steve Gleason made against Atlanta Falcons is one of the most memorable sporting moments in the NFL history. The moment was described as a “rebirth” for the city of New Orleans after the effects from Hurricane Katrina. Because of this singular event, Steve Gleason became a local hero.
So it’s a contrasting experience to witness the aftermath.
Gleason documents the life of the former NFL player who shortly after retiring from the game, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS as it’s most commonly known. It’s a neuro-muscular disease that shuts down your motor functions affecting your ability to move, your ability to speak and breathe. Given five years to live and with a newborn baby on the way, Steve begins to keep a video diary to document his experience as well as passing on life lessons to his child.
Immediately from the get go Gleason doesn’t sugar coat this experience. James Marsh’s The Theory of Everything about the life of Stephen Hawking is probably the most recognisable dramatisation of the disease. However, Gleason is an intimately raw and poignant look at ALS. It’s perfectly fine if your knowledge of the disease is limited because the documentary educates you by bringing ALS to the forefront, revealing its shocking results.
Gleason is a personal insight into those physical struggles and the daily changes in lifestyle. His wife becomes a full-time caregiver, supporting his every need as well as raising his son. It takes the time to be reflective to handle challenging aspects of faith and the battle to maintain it against all obstacles. In one gut-wrenching moment, Steve (who is trying to repair his relationship with his born again Christian father) passionately pleas that his soul is saved and not to question his beliefs. Coinciding with the rapid decrease in Steve’s health, it is in those brief moments where the full essence of humanity is on display.
The intention of the video journals can be viewed in two ways. Helping his son to get the best start in life in case the inevitable happens was Steve’s primary goal. The secondary goal can be viewed as Steve speaking to anyone viewing the documentary. He brings you down to his level, a roller-coaster of emotions to share his story, his empathy, his frustrations and his heartaches.
As much as Gleason is a heartbreaking experience, director Clay Tweel brings a balance. Utilising over 1,500 hours of footage, he builds an evolving and emotive journey capturing the brave acts that transpires along the way. So moving in its message at providing an authentic look at humanity, that to find words to express that can be difficult. Pushing you out of your comfort zone the documentary changes tone, finding ways to be positive and uplifting by bringing as much humorous levity and child-like innocence even through the darkest of times. That uplift not only comes from his video conversations to his son but from Steve’s strong mentality of living life to the fullest, finding love and peace in everything he does. It’s through his experience that he finds the courage and inspiration to help other ALS sufferers, improving their quality of life via his foundation. This positive commitment is achieved by the Steve Gleason Act which helps medicare patients with assistive technology to communicate with love ones and caregivers to the famous and global social media event, the ice bucket challenge.
In essence, Gleason is a celebration of life, sharing our experiences to others in order to become a better person and this is the most honest and profound documentary you’ll find to illustrate this. It’s the celebration of the relationships and the continuous sacrifices made to keep that human spirit alive. But most importantly, it’s the celebration of the knowledge and the power this documentary emits – you’re not alone and ALS doesn’t have to define you. The fact that Steve Gleason is still alive is case point and evident.
Life can be cruel but as Steve would say – the future is bigger than the past.
GLEASON is in cinemas 17 March and out on DVD and Digital Download 24th April.