Many of you have written to ask about Stronger and the truth is, I totally forgot to write about it and then the New York premiere happened last night which works out well for me, almost like I had that planned. Here’s Jake Gyllenhaal, with Jeff Bauman, and Tatiana Maslany alongside director David Gordon Green. Stronger opens next weekend. The reviews are solid. But this isn’t a surprise given the talent involved. And Jake Gyllenhaal is never sh-t. As usual, he’s very, very good in this film. Having said that, I don’t think he’s the star of Stronger. To me, the star of Stronger is Tatiana Maslany. And the supporting cast, which actually strengthens the film and doesn’t take away from it. I don’t know that it was meant to be a vehicle to showcase Jake and only Jake. I don’t know that he takes work like that at this point in his career anymore.
Stronger reminds me in parts a lot of David O Russell’s The Fighter and, yes, I suppose it’s because of the Boston connection. You remember Mark Wahlberg’s family in The Fighter? All those family members and the drama caused by his mother, played by Melissa Leo who went on to win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her work in that film? The dynamic in Stronger is similar with Miranda Richardson totally killing it as Jake’s mother. She’s the one who tries to find meaning in senseless tragedy by pushing her son forward as an inspiration. This is one of the themes of sto– to highlight, of course, the courage of victims after trauma but also to remind us that those from whom we want to find inspiration often don’t actually want to inspire. It’s an experience that’s almost forced on them, unfairly. Imagine you get your legs blown off at a time in your life when you don’t even know what you want your life to be. And then, while trying to rebuild your life, everyone wants you to be their emblem, a symbol that takes the shape of whatever it is that they need symbolised. Some people step naturally into that role. And their stories are valuable. But some people also struggle with that experience. Those stories are worth telling too.
As are the stories about the caregivers, because, for me, this is what is at the heart of Stronger – and that’s where we find Tatiana Maslany. For every Jeff Bauman, there’s an Erin Hurley (Tatiana Maslany). The people who love the victims are victims too. Their lives change too. Stronger is as much as profile of Jeff Bauman’s struggle and tenacity as it is a love letter to his caregiver, to caregivers. Tatiana Maslany represents those in the support roles, those who clean up, those who lift, those who drive their loved ones from rehab to therapy to the hospital and back. Those who may not be able to express their frustrations, their fears, and their grief over their own losses because their traumas, regrets, and resentments are often overlooked.
I’m particularly sensitive to this because my father is a caregiver, to my mother who is disabled. She has an incurable disease. For years he’s been the one to put on her diaper when she was paralysed from the waist down, to wipe her drool and vomit, to carry her onto her commode, to empty her bedpan, to push her up and down the aisles of the hospital in the middle of the night. This has been his reality since retirement. Her life would not be possible without him. It’s his lifestyle, a lifestyle dedicated entirely to her. And he has never, ever complained. Caregivers don’t complain. They just care, often in the shadows, while their pain doesn’t get acknowledged. This is what Tatiana Maslany carries in Stronger and she too is a symbol, in this case a symbol for the essential role of caregivers everywhere who stoically and silently navigate trauma and its aftermath.
I recently did an interview about caregiving and my own experience as one of ma’s caregivers. Please know that my intention was not to highlight myself but to contribute to Campaign Participation, raising awareness about blood health, organ donation, and the importance of caregivers. To read about the campaign, please click here.