By Rishi Ravuri
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson, Clancy Brown
Direction: David Gordon Green
Music: Michael Brook
Only when we realize and accept that we are weak and broken can we then become strong and whole. Stronger, directed by David Green, is an inspirational film cataloguing the journey of Boston Marathon Bombing survivor Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal) after losing both his legs below the knee. The film manages to honestly capture the beautiful and ugly feeling of accepting our weaknesses to find our strength. By witnessing Jeff struggle and grapple with his hurdles, we can gain perspective on how evolve beyond our own shortcomings as well.
Jeff Bauman was grievously injured in the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing. In an attempt to win back his ex-girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany) and show his support, he was waiting by the finish line while she competed in the event. He experiences the blast firsthand. Both his legs were lost bellow the knee, but with the help of his family, friends, and loyal girlfriend (they get back together after his accident), he pulls himself up by his bootstraps and managed to walk again with the aid of prosthetic limbs. He also heroically managed to identify one of the bombers. His story is arduous, heartbreaking, and inspiring. Stronger at first may seem daunting due to its dark source material but the film quickly assuages those fears by getting off on a light foot. Costco chicken roaster Jeff, 28 at the start of the film, is funny, warm, and kind. I found myself growing fond of him within the first few minutes of the film. Jeff is a good friend with a good heart; although he does have his shortcomings such as lack of motivation and structure in his life, he quickly captured my affection. It was easy to empathize with him from start to finish, through the ups and downs of his saga. A wholesome man, Jeff's first question after awaking from his attack is to ask if his Erin is ok; his second statement is a joke about his situation comparing himself attempts to find the silver lining to every thundercloud, comedically comparing himself to a wheelchair bound man from Forrest Gump. His resilience and optimism ultimately prove crucial to his recovery.
Stronger pulled away from the cliché of homing in on Jeff's physical journey and focused more on his mental and emotional growth. Other films in this vein put heavy emphasis on the physical pain and struggle of the trauma and the subsequent overcoming of the debilitation. However, Stronger displays very few scenes portraying Jeff's training, practice, and difficulty in using his prosthetic legs. Rather, it chooses to show how his accident has taken a toll on his perception of himself due to his new limitations and its influence on the relationships with the people around him. It focuses on his life without his legs and his struggle to stand as a man, as well as the mental toll it takes on him. His apathy to their struggle, his loss of self-identity, and his subsequent PTSD all arguably crippled him more than the injury itself and are the true debilitations he must conquer. Stronger spends much time exploring Jeff's battle with himself and reconciling who he was before the accident and who he is now. The film makes it clear that some of Jeff's problems were existent prior to the accident; not all that he has to conquer is induced by the bombing.
It is also important to note that Stronger emphasizes that Jeff is not the only hero of the story. Even though he was the one to bear the most superficial facet of the burden, the loss of his legs, his family and girlfriend now must come to grips with bearing the burden of Jeff's situation. His girlfriend and mother are just as powerful as Jeff, and the movie displays their struggle with his situation with honesty. His girlfriend in particular did not pull any punches in her assessment of the difficulty of having a relationship where one partner must be the caretaker.
In conclusion, Stronger was a very powerful film. Gyllenhaal's acting, along with Maslany's, was fantastic. The film is thoughtfully shot and directed and fill the film with heartwarming vibe. Stronger was raw and exposed in its portrayal of its characters and their story. Authenticity is often hard to come by, and films of this ilk find themselves employing shortcuts in order to facilitate the narrative. Stronger avoids this and is a refreshing take on the tired "true story drama" that saturates Hollywood.