Eric Daniel Metzgar’s film about guitarist Jason Crigler’s struggle to recover after a debilitating brain hemorrhage suffers from its inability to disentangle its sentimental attachments from what is universally empathic. Metzgar is in the awkward position of being the subject’s friendly acquaintance only: not hopelessly enmeshed in the drama as subject/director Jonathan Caouette was in Tarnation (in which the obsessive sentimental attachment was the universal), nor properly distanced enough to be nonpartisan. Because of this, the film has a hard time shifting between its different modes of portrayal (which are metaphysics, family/romance, and the arts community).
The film works fantastically as a metaphysical drama, in which Jason’s family members believe his soul was caught in a sort of medical limbo, sensing his presence without being able to identify its medical vitality (doctor’s initially considered his an essentially vegetative state). This belief gives Jason’s family an amazing drive to work and bring him out of permanent disability. His family’s level of self-sacrifice is an impressive testimony to the power (and necessity) of family in the struggle for individual survival. One can’t help but wonder if many others in such a vegetative state would recover if a similar group were willing to work continuously over several years to bring their loved one back.
Unfortunately, the film gives the impression that the whole family never (ever!) doubted Jason would make a full recovery. The amount of faith this family possesses is not what is unbelievable. One family member makes an important distinction between hope and faith—the latter being characterized by action as well as belief. It is somewhat outlandish, however, that there seems to have been so little doubt among all the members of this family. The doggedly positive thinking in this film would make Oprah jealous. It’s at this point one begins to suspect the film has become an unwitting evangelist for the “indomitable power of the human spirit” trope, and, moreover, that it glosses over either the true struggle of the family or takes for granted the almost beatific faith Crigler’s family has in his recovery.
Enter the New York City arts scene, which bred and supported Crigler. As the outermost ring of his life, this community, of which filmmaker Metzgar is a part, runs the risk of becoming an unwelcome hanger-on to grief in the film. Metzgar’s work as a filmmaker is skillful, no doubt, but it has a hard time identifying where it wants to come from, whether it is an insider or outsider narrative. This sucks all the drama out of the struggles in the film, and spends too much time on the success of Jason’s recovery. More carrot than hard work, it seems that Metzgar was not close enough to effectively communicate the family drama, nor was he far removed enough to realize this. Norah Jones and other famous artists talk about what a loss it was to not have Jason around, but these come off like celebrity endorsements rather than actual documents of grief. Nonetheless, watching Crigler’s unique recovery is worth whatever vapid portrayals seem to get in the way.