I, Alive

The limits of physical ability through injury or illness are not something that is generally tackled by mainstream cinema. The exceptions to this take the form of a passion project of a film star with a great deal of clout or an actor who is trying to legitimise their shot as an Oscar contender.  The more difficult subjects are usually addressed by film makers outside of the major system.  A film that examines this is the 2011 short film I, Alive from Scottish writer / director Thomas Simpson.

The story follows wheelchair bound Kevin (Calum Murray) and his struggle to be understood. Kevin is unable to verbally communicate and the only part of him we ever see move is his eyes. A possible play on the title with eyes alive perhaps?  His brother Paul (Paul Massie) is his carer. It is the day of the big football match. A potential league deciding game or as Kevin puts it, aren’t they all. The brothers support the opposing teams and head off to the pub to watch the game. Meeting up with their friend Eddie (Brian Grassie) they settle in to watch the game. Someone is going to be disappointed by the outcome.

The story is narrated by the internal voice of Kevin. Unable to communicate verbally, he is determined to be heard and is convinced that at some point he will make his brother and by extension everyone else understand him. The theme of being trapped runs through the entire film. Kevin with his evident physical limitations is an intelligent and opinionated man trapped in an unresponsive shell of flesh and bone. The only time we see him animated is a short dream sequence when his team scores. Kevin jumps up and celebrates in front of both Paul and Eddie using the traditional Scottish greeting of ‘Get it up Ye’.

His brother, Paul is also trapped. It was not always like this and it seems that Kevin’s condition is something that occurred in the recent to medium past. Paul is trapped in his duty to Kevin. Having given up a place at university to care for his brother, Paul appears to have no future. Their friend Eddie is trapped in another way entirely. When asked how is doing his answers betrays the monotony of his life.  An endless roundabout of chasing girls, drinking and slowly growing old and tired. No future indeed.

There appears to be a link of sorts between Kevin and Eddie. When together Kevin can have a thought and a couple of minutes later Eddie puts the same point to Paul.  Unlike Paul they think along similar lines and have the same sense of humour. As the primary carer Paul chooses to disregard both of them.

For a run time of only six minutes and sparse dialogue this film packs a lot into it. On a micro budget the director and crew are able to produce a very interesting piece of cinema. The scene of the two men travelling to the Pub conveys so much on the dynamic between the brothers without a single word spoken. The pub scene when the match is on deserves a special mention. The viewer is invited to watch the patrons from the point of view of the television screen high on the wall. It is an unusual and engaging shot, watching the reactions  of the fans and the sight of the immobile Kevin.

This is an assured and mature piece of film making and bodes well for Mr Simpson’s future as a director.  Recommended.

John McArthur
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