I Am Breathing
I Am Breathing documents the final months of Neil Platt, who was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease at 33. Knowing that he will be leaving behind a young son, Oscar, Neil starts to put together a letter and a memory box for his son for when he grows up. Excerpts from his blog are used as narration, as is the sound of his breathing apparatus in a way: a constantly undulating mechanical whir of oxygen always audible in the background.
The film opens with quotes from Platt’s blog: “This is a tale of fun and laughs with a smattering of upset and devastation”, and I Am Breathing more than lives up to this. The film’s premise doesn’t sound like fun viewing, and for a good deal of the time it isn’t. A young man who used to ride motorbikes, go swimming with his wife and dance at his wedding is slowly reduced to a mannequin and all we – and Neil and his family – can do is watch. Home videos of Neil in the full bloom of health are interspersed throughout, and these compared to how Neil looks post-diagnosis makes for a jarring experience. It’s the small things like being able to scratch an itch that we take for granted but hamper every day of Neil’s existence. He asks us to picture it. It sounds like hell.
In one gloomy scene, Neil’s son Oscar plays on a swing with his mother and his Uncle, while Neil is confined to his chair in the living room, unable to be with his son. But the crux is that Neil’s senses aren’t affected by his disease at all. He can still feel. The moment he is denied a kiss from Oscar because he can only have his breathing apparatus away from him for a short amount of time is particularly painful. He deteriorates as the film goes on, using the clock on his ceiling as a grim countdown. At one moment he cracks jokes about what a “piece of shit” his equipment is; but then towards the end his wife has to beat his chest just to get him to breathe. His speech dims and gets slower until he drives off into the gleaming sun (Neil’s passing is literally depicted by a car turning a corner and being flooded with sunlight – simply stunning).
There’s also light at the end of the dark tunnel Neil is travelling down. At one point he tells us “It’s amazing how adaptable we are when we have to be. It’s what separates us and defines us as human beings”, and Neil, his wife Louise and Oscar are living proof. The couple carry on as normal in the best way they can, making each other laugh. He’s still the cheeky bugger he always was in her eyes. Louise only cries once in the film’s entire 72 minutes. Oscar is a bright and lively child, and provided much needed moments of humour. He is too young to fully understand what is happening to his dad, which some might argue is a good thing. After Neil dies, Oscar runs around in the place where his dad used to sleep, completely unaware that anything is missing from the room. But Oscar and the audience are safe in the knowledge that he has plenty to remind him of Neil when he is older; including a cigarette lighter, a leather jacket, and a love of music.
Knowing that he isn’t much longer for this world spurs Neil on to use his blog to raise awareness of Motor Neurone Disease, and he succeeds. Seeing Neil campaigning so fiercely, as limited as he is, makes you feel that you have no excuse to put off anything you want to do. Make the most of every minute. Grab life with both hands. All maxims that would sound empty coming from a self-help book or Trisha really resonate during I Am Breathing’s closing credits. Neil sums up the message of the film best with his final “words”: “My re-acquaintance with the when of things has confirmed how right I was to have an awareness of and value my time. You could all do me favour – don’t let yours slip by unnoticed”.