INSPIRATIONAL and emotionally heavy, Breathe demonstrates what the power of hope can achieve in one’s life, even when confronted by great challenges.
Set in the 1950s, Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield) is an exuberant young man in his late 20s.
After having spent seven years in the army as a rifleman he decides to enter into a tea-brokering business with a friend in Africa where he meets a stunning young lady named Diana (Claire Foy).
The two soon wed and, not long after, expect their first child when tragedy unexpectedly strikes.
Robin is diagnosed with polio, paralysed from the neck down and confined to a hospital bed with a mechanical respirator as his only life support, at a time when those who were disabled were deemed incapable and dependant and thus, “imprisoned” to life in hospital.
The tragic change of life situation becomes too overwhelming for Robin, such that he would rather die than remain in such a pitiful state.
He turns away from his wife on her hospital visits and even refuses to look at his newborn child. The emotions are heavy at this stage as Garfield (Silence, The Social Network) zeros in on Robin’s anguished experience, with a convincing portrayal of life bound to a respirator.
It is a top performance indeed, one that may see his name surface come award season.
The real heart of this film is in Robin’s turning point, influenced by his wife’s selfless passion and love for him.
He makes a dramatic and scandalous move out of hospital and begins to live a life not limited by his tragic situation.
Instead he begins to seek fullness in the life he can live, best epitomised during a scene where the Cavendish family, while travelling, become stranded in the middle of the Spanish countryside until they are met by a cohort of wandering Spaniards with whom they end up partying the night away.
Robin’s move out of hospital not only resuscitates his desire for life, but gives rise to a social shift among an entire disabled community, who witness his re-integration back into “normal” society and are awakened to their own potential to break out of the social stigma placed on them.
The film is great testament to true love in the context of marriage.
Diana never refuses to give up on her husband and their family, giving herself whole-heartedly to maintaining his well-being and facing every surmounting challenge in their life with equanimity.
Furthermore, the tight-knit circle of family and friends surrounding the Cavendish family throughout the years of both rise and struggle, also powerfully illustrate the importance of surrounding oneself with supportive and dependable community.
One cannot take on any journey alone.
Andy Serkis makes a sensational directing debut here, capturing the core of this true story in a seemlessly intricate manner, within a neat running time of 118 minutes.
Serkis takes the audience straight into the depths of despair of Robin’s situation with the use of close-up shots of he and his wife in their moments of desperation.
This is expounded by the slight linger in the close-ups, which truly allows viewers to participate in both the painful struggle as well as the moments of victory.
Perhaps one of this film’s weaknesses is the lack of characterisation of those outside of the immediate family, with little to no background on the context of their involvement.
Diana’s twin brothers (played by Tom Hollander) are slightly confusing, bouncing to and from being sources of comic relief to unpredictable, woeful figures in the background.
In addition, the young adult version of Robin’s son (Dean-Charles Chapman) in the third act, lacks an emotional presence, failing to convey any clear conviction towards the state of his father and family.
Besides these small flaws, the re-telling of this true story from the 1950s is heart-warming, inspiring and one not to be missed.
Breathe will be released Australia-wide on Boxing Day.
By Arnie Hurdoyal