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

| Documentary, Short
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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User Reviews

11 October 2004 | by (Dallas, Texas) – See all my reviews

I can't express how phenomenal a film this is. Partly it is Jessica Yu's superb, understated direction. But a large part is Mark O'Brien himself, whose abiding intelligence and evocative poetry are electrifyingly cinematic, despite his being confined to an iron lung. I saw this film almost a year before it won the Oscar, and I have rarely been as happy as I was then. When I heard he died several years later, I was genuinely saddened. I watched it again today, when it was announced that Christopher Reeve had died. It reminds you how truly special some people are -- sometimes not because of what they do, but simply who they are. Which, when you think about it, may be the same thing. Don't miss it.

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