Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O'Brien (1996)

 |  Documentary, Short
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Portrait of writer Mark O'Brien, who contracted polio as a child and spent much of his life in an iron lung.



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Won 1 Oscar. Another 3 wins. See more awards »



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Credited cast:
Mark O'Brien ...
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Ian Berzon ...


According to Mark O'Brien, "The two mythologies about disabled people break down to one: we can't do anything, or two: we can do everything. But the truth is, we're just human." O'Brien was a frequently published journalist and poet, and a contributor to National Public Radio. He contracted polio in childhood and, due to post-polio syndrome, spent much of his life in an iron lung. Yet for more than forty years, he fought against illness, bureaucracy and society's conflicting perceptions of disability for his right to lead an independent life. Breathing Lessons breaks down barriers to understanding by presenting an honest and intimate portrait of a complex, intelligent, beautiful and interesting person, who happens to be disabled. Incorporating the vivid imagery of O'Brien's poetry, and his candid, wry and often profound reflections on work, sex, death and God, this provocative film asks: what makes a life worth living? Written by Meredith Miller

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Documentary | Short





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Mark O'Brien: Everybody becomes disabled unless they die first.
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Piano by Sandra Tsing Loh
Guitar by Mike Miller
Cello by Mark Salzman
Cello improvisations by Mark Salzman
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I have to
19 April 2002 | by (Bruges, Belgium) – See all my reviews

I just saw this incredible film by Jessica Yu and just have to say something about it. Actually, it's not really an achievement in filmmaking, the images and words used here really tell all there is to it. I simply can't describe it, you have to see it for yourself (if you're interested in life). Words just ... aren't enough to say what kind of man Mark O'Brien was. No, even that isn't saying enough. I just want to praise his parents for their incredible loving, his friends for respecting him as a human being and, of course Mark O'Brien himself, for, well, just being who he was. I really learned from these 35 minutes, more than from most people I have met and from most films I've seen, books I've read,... This man's thoughts about God, life, his poetry,... I reckon many people won't expect that from a man who can't live outside his machine, who actually hasn't got a body, at least not like most others. But his thoughts and courage reach far beyond those of most people who have the ability to move and do things Mark O'Brien can't. Or "couldn't", because he passed away after the making of this film. So this is for you Mark, and for all the others who have the courage to make life worth living for all of us, and who teach us things that matter. And thanks to Jessica and all who worked on this, for telling this story. Here's to all of you!

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