I AM Breathing is an eye opening documentary which follows the final few months of the inspirational Neil Platt. Diagnosed with MND (Motor Neurone Disease) at the age of 33, Neil was a healthy, young architect, husband and father. I AM Breathing shows the devastating consequences of the currently incurable disease which drags him from the peak of his life to the end within a few months.
Motor Neurone Disease breaks down the nerves in the brain and spinal cord preventing the sufferer from being able to perform basic actions such as walking, talking and breathing. In Neil’s case his speech is one of the last things to go, allowing him to narrate his experience right until the end.
Heartbreakingly, the documentary shows a contrast between the loss of independence of Neil and the development of his young son Oscar. Poignantly, as Oscar learns how to walk, talk and feed himself, Neil loses these abilities and has to be cared for completely by his wife, Louise. Unfortunately, MND is genetic, meaning there is a 50% chance that Oscar will also develop the disease during his lifetime and therefore one of the key purposes of the film is to promote awareness in the hope that it will increase funding for research into helping sufferers. Neil and many others hope that by drawing attention to the disease, it might be possible to find a cure which would save many lives, potentially including Oscar’s. The same night that SMHAFF screened I AM Breathing, it was also being played to MPs in Westminster with the hope of achieving this goal. They would have to have hearts of steel not to be moved by the incredibly touching and beautiful piece of art. A spokesperson for MND Scotland said: “it drives home an experience in a way we can’t”.
The documentary not only shows the physical impact of the disease on Neil’s life, it also explores the difficulty of having to accept and prepare for death. It shows how he copes with knowing he will never see his wife again or watch his son grow up and demonstrates the reality of mortality in a way that is impossible to ignore. It would be difficult not to admire Neil’s bravery and sustained sense of humour right until the very end.
In addition to I AM Breathing, Neil also wrote a blog, Plattitude.co.uk, to document his experience of MND. His dedication to the communication of his situation lead him to post 100 entries from July 2008, 5 months after he was first diagnosed, until his death in February 2009. It includes Neil’s stirring final post telling of his decision “to go back to Saint Michael’s Hospice for that third and final visit”, which he dictated to Louise despite hardly being able to speak.
“The thing about the blog is that it seems to have made many people, previously untouched and unaware of the disease, take stock of their own lives in order to grasp every opportunity that lands in their lap (if there is an opportunity that lands in someone else’s lap then go see if they’ll do you a swap) Just don’t miss any.”
Beautiful and poignant, I AM Breathing is an incredibly touching work of art which I would thoroughly recommend. It can be seen online at iambreathing.com. Stock up on tissues first though.