Film Review: When I Walk (USA, 2013)

WhenIWalk

The cautionary tale of never taking anything for granted has been featured on film many many times before, but in this feature documentary film, When I Walk, filmmaker Jason DaSilva chronicles his life with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), from the moment his legs failed on him to the present day. And it’s anything but your typical “overcoming adversity” feature.

We’re fortunate that DaSilva is a documentary filmmaker, and a talented one at that, because his account of living with MS from the time he was 25 years old (he is now in his mid-thirties) is heartbreaking, frustrating, uplifting and humorous at times but always candid.

Early in the film, DaSilva is seen on a family vacation where he discovers that his legs can’t get him up from the ground from here, we follow him through to his initial tests and diagnoses with doctors. The early stages of his life with MS are eye-opening because he is still optimistic about his outcome and his life, even admitting that if he stays strong physically his condition will be different.

But DaSilva’s prognosis gets worse and before long he has gone from walking with a cane to being in a wheelchair. In one particularly brilliant scene, DaSilva speaks of his disappointment when being shown pamphlets of wheelchairs, not long after being given a cane. It’s these personal accounts – captured on film – of DaSilva slowly realising his physical capabilities aren’t what they used to be that make this personal story truly captivating.

DaSilva’s documentary is like a video diary of his journey since first being diagnosed. He talks about feeling like he’s still an able-bodied young man then realises that just getting down a flight of stairs becomes difficult. He shows us the effects of immobility on his social life. He shows us the effects MS on his love life. He travels with his brother to India to commence work on a film, however, due to his MS, he abandons the project and heads home to the USA, and it’s here that we’re witnessing the wide effects of MS on all parts of his life.

DaSilva however does include his inner circle/support system in his film, the most memorable being his tough-as-nails mother and his wife Alice, whom he met through an MS support group. We learn that DaSilva’s strength probably came from his pragmatic mother, who never once mollycoddles her son yet advises him to toughen up. When he tells her that he wants to continue to live in his neighbourhood despite its many immobility challenges, she says, “If you really want to live here, you’ll find a way”. She’s a “mind over matter” type of woman and DaSilva gives her deserving respect in his film.

His wife Alice is his main supporter, in every way possible. Her mother also has MS and through their mutual understanding of the disease brings them closer together. DaSilva’s relationship with Alice caught on camera is as sweet, loving and complicated as any other relationship, and there will be many who will smile broadly as they whizz around on scooters through the Guggenheim Museum. They are both very forthright about the challenges in their relationship due to MS, as they discuss, in various scenes, everything from their sex life, to their longevity as a couple, and the frustrations they both feel living with MS, including Alice’s experience as the able-bodied one in the relationship.

But if When I Walk does anything at all, it shows the truth behind the disease, and how it affects DaSilva’s outlook on life. In the beginning of the film, he declares, “I may be walking slower, but inside I’m racing”, and it’s inspiring to see that his aptitude for creativity and innovation hasn’t been hampered by his MS.

When I Walk is as much about a man living with MS as it is about an artist processing his life’s trials and tribulations through the medium of film. This film has been widely lauded in the USA and without a doubt it will be praised in Australia too.

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

When I Walk is screening digitially in select terriotoes. For more details, head here: http://wheniwalk.com/