It’s easy to imagine what My Left Foot might have looked like in the hands of a lesser director like, say, Ron Howard—its class consciousness swept under the rug and its mythic vision of parent-child love presented as sentimental bombast. Howard might have looked down at the main character, Christy Brown, who, in spite of his crippling cerebral palsy, went on to become an extraordinary writer and artist, as if to suggest Christy should rise to the level of those who could walk. But Jim Sheridan is more attuned to the hardships of people living with devastating mental afflictions and is sensitive to their feelings about their place in the world, and as such his camera almost always stays on the same level as his hero, like the beautiful scene in which the young Christy (Hugh O’Conor) crawls toward his pregnant mother (Brenda Fricker) so she can feed him. As he forces himself up, she struggles to bend down—mother and child meet each other half way, the first of many scenes gently overflowing with the unspoken love between a mother and her child. The film is loaded with such striking moments (Christy writing MOTHER on the floor and showing his family that he can write, kicking a football with his left foot and scoring a goal for his team, and throwing himself down the stairs to save his hurt mother), all of which evoke Christy’s struggle to be recognized as something more than a helpless cripple. One hundred and six minutes is entirely too short a time span for Sheridan to cover Christy’s entire life, but the performances are so profound they successfully fill in any and all gaps. When the female doctor (Fiona Shaw) who helps an older Christy (Daniel Day-Lewis) cope with his condition announces her engagement to another man, all one needs to comprehend Christy’s intense love for the woman is Day-Lewis bitterly blurting out “con-grat-u-lations” before a crowded room. In her review of the film in The New Yorker Pauline Kael rightfully likened this outburst of words to slaps. But this isn’t to say Christy’s attack is unwarranted: Once again, the audience gets the profound impression—thanks to a remarkable Day-Lewis—that Christy feels emasculated, that Shaw’s character should have known better than to take him and his condition at face value. Like Kael says about an earlier scene in which the people who live on the young Christy’s block don’t recognize that he had nothing to do with his mother falling down the stairs, “I don’t know that any movie has ever given us so strong a feeling of intelligence struggling to come out to be recognized.”
I freely admit to not knowing why the quality of a film's title sequence seems to always pale in comparison to the quality of the rest of a film on DVD. The opening minute's of this Collector's Series edition of My Left Foot are downright embarrassing, boasting some really nasty flecks across the frame that make it seem as if the characters are afflicted with some kind of black-spotted plague. Luckily, 90% of the flecks go away after five minutes and it's a relatively smooth image for the rest of the film's playing time. The sound mix is more consistent but isn't a powerhouse for something that's been allegedly remastered.
The five-minute "The Real Christy Brown" intersperses pictures and archive footage of the real Christy Brown and his family with interviews with co-writer Shane Connaughton and others, "An Inspirational Journey: The Making of My Left Foot" allows the same people to trace the film's evolution from a speck in the filmmakers' eyes to Oscar glory, a still gallery, and a bunch of positive reviews of the film from Charles Champlin, David Denby, Pauline Kael, and Elvis Mitchell.
Not included in the round-up of critic reviews is the four-star notice by Roger Ebert, who thought about writing his piece with his left foot. How's that for intense viewer identification?