Written by Rooster Shortstuffyan
This 2012 documentary film is a channel4 TV feature that was filmed, produced and directed by Stuart Greig. It is available online on websites such as youtube, where I originally stumbled upon this heart-wrenching documentary. The film tells a unique story of a family impacted by an age-defying condition called Leukodystrophy. This rare disease causes the loss of neurological function of the brain, causing the mind to deteriorate over age and therefore present child-like behavior as the condition worsens. The film is not about the condition; it is about the story of Matthew and Michael Clark and their parents Christine and Tony.
Both brothers are in their early 40’s and both led perfectly normal lives, got married, eventually divorced and Matthew even has a 19-year-old daughter soon to give birth. It wasn’t up until they were in their 30’s when the disease asserted into their lives, forever changing the relationships around them. No one knew what was happening to them at the time, the parents were retired and living in Spain with lost communication with their sons over time. Thing got really bad with Matthew and Michael who ended up in different homeless shelters. Eventually the parents were tracked down, learning about the distressing condition their sons now live with, returning home to take care of them.
Christine is a strong character in this film, one I highly identified with. When her raw emotions were brought out, it made the film very hard to watch. The news and tabloids called the brothers the “real life Benjamin Button” which makes her angry in the film. “They’re not children, you’ve got to treat them as adults with a problem” says Christine. The disease brought their family back together; Tony and Christine are forced to act as parents again. The film shows their everyday lives of dealing with tantrums and difficulties. Tony and Christine seem to be amazing parents and it’s heart-breaking to see them suffer.
The film focuses on the backstory of this family and is effective with emotional impact. It is a character driven documentary that raises awareness for Leukodystrophy and people affected by it. Using Narration and photos from the past, they were able to contrast the previous normal lives with the current troubled condition, highlighting the transformation of Matthew and Michael. It uses a three-act structure to unveil the story. During the first act we were introduced to the family and backstory of Michael and Matthew. Later we get information on the condition and how this affects the Clark brothers and their family. During the second act, complication were introduced, and showed how difficult it has been for everyone involved. Finally in the third act, we feel the raising of stakes as the condition of the brothers are shown getting worse. At one point, Christine says, “Please God, don’t take my sons,” before adding, “Tony tells me there isn’t a God.” We sympathize with the family and there is an emphasis on emotion. Christine nearly breaks down towards the end of the film as another parent affected by Leukodystrophy, speaks to them with a reality check, saying the condition will get worse, but they will grow stronger with it.
It is a low budget film and is poorly produced, but features a good enough story where the quality of the film is not noticeable. I was disappointed that the filmmaker didn’t ask the Clark Brothers any questions, treating them more of a subject of a story, rather then the story itself. This film definitely has potential but lacked the budget and quality to make it great. This film does have elements of a “good story well told” and does conclude in a satisfactory ending. It does not suggest things would get better with the Clark family but we must stay hopeful and strong along with the parents.
It may not be an Oscar-winning doc, but I like the simplicity of it. I also happened to like the Curious Case of Benjamin Button film and if it wasn’t for the clever title on this doc, I may have never watched it.