The Finish Line
On April 15, 2013, a truly heinous act happened (once again) on American soil. What occurred in the aftermath would be the origin of the “Boston Strong” movement and a rally-cry for a nation to come together, not only for the city of Boston, but the entire country.
During a beautiful Monday morning at the Boston Marathon finish line, two explosions, timed seconds apart, rocked the city. Two homemade bombs exploded, pressure cookers filled with debris designed to kill, maim and injure. Explosions that succeeded in killing 3 and injuring hundreds in one of the most horrific days in the city’s history.
One of the survivors, Jeff Bauman, lived to tell the authorities what he saw. He was standing next to one of the terrorists who placed a knapsack in the crowd containing one of the devices. You probably saw the famous picture of Jeff in the wheelchair, bloodied and grey, a man in a cowboy hat frantically yelling and holding Jeff’s femoral artery in his hand.
It was a moving image, probably the most identifiable of all the events that day.
Stronger focuses on Jeff’s story. An aloof slacker who works at Costco, Jeff loves his beloved Red Sox, the Bruins and anything else Boston. He skips out of work early to catch a Sox game, still lives with his barfly mom and drinks with his friends regularly.
His ex-girlfriend, Erin, is always in his peripheral and you can tell he still crushes on her. When she walks into a local bar he frequents, he finds out she’s running in the marathon and promises to be at the finish line for her. She laughs it off. He has never been there for her for anything.
Unfortunately for him, it’s the one time he shows up.
I was fascinated that Stronger was more a profile in PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) than the story of the bombing itself. We all watched in the news how the survivors coped later on, once the healing began. What the media doesn’t show is the actual path that must be taken to get to said healing.
Director David Gordon Green (Joe, All The Real Girls) wisely avoids putting the attention on the perpetrators, instead focusing on Jeff’s story. There are subtle references to the bombers, but they are few and far between, never taking the eye off Jeff.
Having your legs blown off can’t be easy on the psyche. Jake Gyllenhaal portrays Jeff as an every-man. He could be your buddy or co-worker. Jeff has no real goals in life, just wants to have fun and have a few brews with his buds. After his life is irrevocably changed forever, Stronger becomes a story of his journey through darkness and the people who helped him reach the light.
Long Road To Recovery
Stronger shows his struggle to cope with the burden of being the image of “Boston Strong“. Confronted daily by people calling him a “hero”, Jeff wonders what the hell quantifies him being a hero. Everyone who recognizes him reminds him constantly that he is a survivor. Uncomfortable in crowds, the simplest things can trigger the horrific memory of being blown apart.
Jeff is instantly taken back to that day when he’s brought out to wave the Bruins flag at the local hockey game. The flashing lights and the noise of the screaming crowd infiltrate him and the result is terrifying to him. While everyone in Jeff’s orbit can’t comprehend what psychological issues he’s developed, the PTSD symptoms are obvious to the viewing audience.
Jeff’s family are shown as opportunistic, trying to exploit his new found fame. They are oblivious to his hardship. His always seemingly drunk mother wants to get him on Oprah. She presses him to read and reply to all the get-well cards from around the world. When Jeff’s Costco boss arrives with a basket of muffins, his dad gets pissed thinking he’s a reporter trying to get a story. Once he finds out Mr. Costco has the insurance paperwork and benefits package information, his whole tune changes.
Being Stronger For Two
The main focus of the movie falls on Jeff and Erin’s story. His recuperation, his struggle to adapt to his new conditions. There are very few movies that delve into the rehab process and the after-effects of a traumatic event. The burden of being a caregiver falls to Erin and the strain on her is just as stressful as actually being in a wheelchair.
Ultimately, we all know the outcome. There are no real spoilers in the movie, no shock surprises. Jeff’s story is a study of one man’s journey through a life-altering event.
Jake Gyllenhaal (Life, Nocturnal Animals) is a tremendous actor and goes the distance playing Jeff Bauman. His gaunt features and thin frame remind me of his performance in Nightcrawler. He truly exudes the pain he’s in. You can feel the pressure of the crowd, of daily life and the burden of being the face of Boston.
Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black) plays his long-suffering, on/off again girlfriend, Erin Hurley. She is fantastic in everything she’s in and her performance here shines no less.
Other participants include the wonderful Miranda Richardson (the Harry Potter movies) as Jeff’s mother, Patty Bauman, and the great Clancy Brown (The Shawshank Redemption, Starship Troopers) as his dad, Big Jeff. Carlos Sanz (NCIS:Los Angeles, Grimm) plays Carlos Arredondo, the man who may have been instrumental in saving Jeff’s life.
Director David Gordon Green even goes as far as to use the actual medical personnel who worked on Jeff. Many of the supporting players, such as the prosthetic company employees, are also the real deal.
If you’re looking for a heartfelt story on the human condition, you’ll want to see this. All in all, a worthwhile movie to check out. I got a lump in my throat during a few select scenes, it may happen to you as well.
If you’re looking for a more detailed look at the events of the investigation and capture of the suspects, check out Peter Berg’s excellent Patriots Day.
Make the two a double feature, you won’t be disappointed.
Stronger is currently showing on Amazon Prime.