For the first thirty-three years or so of Neil Platt's life, breathing wasn't much of a problem. The onset of Motor Neuron Disease (also known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) changed everything for Neil, his wife Louise, and their young son Oscar. 'I Am Breathing' documents the final fateful months of Neil's life as he and his wife contemplate past, present and future, seeking to raise awareness of the condition and help Oscar understand more about his father.
Neil's disease causes the progressive loss of his motor functions, which initially started with slight twinge in his foot before soon leading to paralysis from the neck down. It's at this point that we join Neil on his journey, which mostly involves sitting in his bed and slowly updating his blog - something which might resonate with some of us more than others. His dry humour emerges, a welcome respite (along with the Four Tet-heavy soundtrack) from the daily struggles that he and his family face.
Louise bears most of the brunt of the difficulties, both physically and emotionally, having to look after the understandably oblivious Oscar - whose greatest life struggle appears to be a confusion between a mango and apple. Neil's mother, Lynn, also appears regularly, and quite remarkably, is almost always seen in high spirits. Lynn, like Neil, had already gone through the heartbreak of MND - Neil's father passed away from the disease.
Considering the genetic component of MND, perhaps Neil's relatively blasé nature toward the disease appears foolish but the film unfortunately doesn't delve too deeply into the science, denying the insight with which to make any sufficient judgement. But this may well have been the intentions of co-directors Emma Davie and Morag Mackinnon, focussing more on the human consequences of the disease.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the film is rather glossed over, with Neil's decision to die using an Advance Directive document that sets out his wishes of when to refuse consent for treatment. The loss of verbal communication is the end for Neil, and as onlookers, Neil's decision arguably comes surprisingly early - especially when compared to fellow MND/ALS sufferer Jason Becker who created music albums with just his eye movements. However, for Neil, the time for his suffering was complete.
'I Am Breathing' is often thought-provoking and surprisingly funny but never quite feels fully formed - when additional elements such as Louise's perspective on each of Neil's blog posts are added, the film becomes something greater. The legacy of 'I Am Breathing' is already growing, although with the film's final scene reflecting on Oscar, we're left to wonder whether Neil's death has sunk in for the young boy - and will it ever?
'I Am Breathing' screened at Open City Docs Fest 2013 as part of Global MND/ALS Awareness Day on 21 June '13. The film continues to be screened on limited release.