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.”
- Jim Sheridan
- Shane Connaughton, Jim Sheridan
- Daniel Day-Lewis, Ray McNally, Brenda Fricker, Fiona Shaw, Hugh O'Conor, Adrian Dunbar, Ruth McCabe, Alison Whelan, Cyril Cusack
- Slant is reaching more readers than ever before, but advertising revenue across the Internet is falling fast, hitting independently owned and operated publications like ours the hardest. We’ve watched many of our fellow media sites fall by the way side in recent years, but we’re determined to stick around.
We’ve never asked our readers for financial support before, and we’re committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees. If you like what we do, however, please consider becoming a Slant patron.
You can also make a one-time donation via PayPal: