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Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O'Brien (1996) - Plot Summary Poster

Plot Summary

  • 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
  • Mark O'Brien is a journalist (for Pacific News Service) and poet who lives in Berkeley, California. He is in his 40's, and for most of every day, he is encased in an iron lung, the result of polio as a child and a relapse 20 years later. O'Brien comments on his life, his parents' courage and devotion, his studies at Cal, his writing, the sweetness of friendship, and his fears. Occasionally he recites one of his poems. The film includes footage from days when O'Brien motored around the sidewalks of Berkeley, flat on his back. While O'Brien's health declines, his meditations on the spiritual and on the nature of the soul embody great power.

    - Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>
  • Portrait of writer Mark O'Brien, who contracted polio as a child and spent much of his life in an iron lung.

    - Written by Meredith Miller

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