Talk about synchronicity - there are two pivotal scenes in Stronger in which the national anthem and the flag are integral to the importance of patriotism and heroism in the healing of wounded bodies and souls. One takes place at the baseball game at Fenway Park and I wondered what effect this movie would have on the healthy athletes of the NFL who have treated both these symbols of our nation’s freedom as convenient photo-ops for publicizing their own cause. Seeing this movie about Jeff Bauman who lost both legs in the terrorist bombing of the Boston Marathon, highlights the world of difference between our country after 9/11 and after Boston and our country since the surprise upset of our last election. We have lost the sincere appreciation for the bravery of men in uniform and have exaggerated the numbers of miscreants who pop up in police forces in our country. We have just learned that current homicide rates have gone up significantly, possibly due to police hesitancy to take forceful action now that they have been singled out as marks by disgruntled loners and activist groups.
Stronger is a searing and heartbreaking look at the random nature of terrorist acts and the long, painful process of recovery. It deals with one victim and his family but the implications for all other victims are obvious. It’s a movie that doesn’t shy away from the complications of damaged personalities who drink till they are blotto, manipulate each other in direct and subtle ways and yet, try falteringly to help and relate to each other. It’s a movie that shows you the stumps resulting from amputation as well as the blind self-indulgence of caregivers and the paralyzing self-pity and aftershock of PTSD The characters are believable because of these honest imperfections and their courage to persevere is more uplifting precisely because it comes after repeated failures. Jake Gyllenhaal and Miranda Richardson are exceptional as the double amputee and his mother and so is Tatiana Maslany who gives a quiet and intuitive performance as his ex and current girlfriend. The director, David Gordon Green juggles the various elements of plot and character in a straightforward manner, relying on the drama inherent to this story to do its job. It’s a movie that succeeds in keeping you in your seat for some time after it ends, waiting to recover from a powerful and emotional experience.
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