Past Meetup

MY LEFT FOOT (1989) - Cinémathèque / Nighttown



Jim Sheridan

Cinémathèque – Thursday, July 11 at 6 p.m. (& 7/13 @ 7 p.m.)

In Irish with subtitles (just kidding!)

Ireland/United States - Rated R

35 mm, color

Genre: Art House & International, Drama, 1 hr. 43 min.

Cleveland Cultural Gardens Film Festival ..

Daniel Day-Lewis won his first of three Academy Awards for his amazing performance as Christy Brown (1932-81), an Irishman with cerebral palsy who was born into a working-class family and became a writer and painter, despite having use only of his left foot. As Brown’s mother, Brenda Fricker also won an Oscar, and the film was nominated for three others, including Best Picture and Director.

An alternative to the general run of "triumph over the odds" biopics, MY LEFT FOOT is the true story of Irish cerebral palsy victim Christy Brown. Paralyzed from birth, Brown (played by Hugh O'Conor as child and Daniel Day-Lewis as an adult) is written off as retarded and helpless. But Christy's indomitable mother (Brenda Fricker) never gives up on the boy. Using his left foot, the only part of his body not afflicted, Brown learns to write. He grows up to become a well-known author, painter, and fundraiser, and along the way falls in love with nurse Mary Carr (Ruth McCabe). There's no sugarcoating in MY LEFT FOOT: Brown, a heavy drinker, was by no means lovable. Day-Lewis and Fricker both won Academy Awards for their performances, and the film was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Also notable are the late Ray McAnally in his next-to-last film role as Christy's father, and venerable Cyril Cusack as Lord Castlewelland. Director Jim Sheridan co-scripted with Shane Connaughton from Christy Brown's autobiography. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

MY LEFT FOOT rated 100-percent FRESH on Rotten Tomatoes (click here) (


WHEN: Thursday, July 11 at 6 p.m.

WHERE: Cleveland Cinematheque

WHO: Cine Arts Cleveland!

DINNER/DISCUSSION: 8 p.m. at Nighttown

Film also screens at 7:25 p.m. on Saturday, July 13. That conflicts with two Music Cleveland! events.

The Cleveland Cinematheque is located at 11141 East Boulevard just across the street from the Museum of Art and the Botanical Gardens. Enter off East Boulevard and drive to the free parking lot in the rear.

Purchase tickets at the door but arrive early to get the best seating.
Rotten Tomatoes rates this as 93-percent FRESH (click here)
Trailer (click here)
8 p.m. After Film Discussion
Since film ends late and it is a weeknight, those who want to discuss the movie will head over to Nighttown, 12387 Cedar Road, 216.795.0550, for discussion, drinks and perhaps a late dinner. Metered parking is available in the rear with an entrance off Cedar just west of the club. Bring plenty of quarters. There may also be free street parking available on nearby side streets.
12387 Cedar Road (just west of Fairmount on Cedar Hill) in Cleveland Heights, 216.795.0550
My Left Foot: The Story of Christy Brown is a 1989 drama film ( directed by Jim Sheridan ( and starring Daniel Day-Lewis ( It tells the true story of Christy Brown (, an Irishman ( born with cerebral palsy (, who could control only his left foot. Christy Brown grew up in a poor, working-class family, and became a writer and artist. The film also stars Ray McAnally (, Brenda Fricker (, Fiona Shaw (, Julie Hale, Alison Whelan, Kirsten Sheridan, Declan Croghan, Eanna MacLiam, Marie Conmee, and Cyril Cusack ( It was adapted by Shane Connaughton and Jim Sheridan from the book of the same name ( by Christy Brown ([3] (
The film was well received by critics and audiences alike. Day-Lewis was praised for his portrayal of Brown, which earned him his firstAcademy Award for Best Actor ( Fricker also won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress (
The film opens with Christy Brown, who has cerebral palsy, being taken to a charity event, where he meets his handler, a nurse named Mary Carr. She begins reading his autobiography. Christy could not walk or talk, but still received love and support from his family, especially his mother.
One day, while Christy was still a young boy, he is the only person home to see his mother have a stroke. He is able to get the attention of some neighbors, who come to his mother's rescue. His father, who had never really believed in Christy, becomes a supporter when, one day, when he is about ten, Christy uses his left foot (the only part of his body he can fully control) to write the word 'mother' on the floor with a piece of chalk. Consequently, Christy seeks a hobby in painting.
He is included by the young people in his neighborhood in their activities, such as playing street soccer, and he even participates in sessions of 'spin the bottle.' However, when he paints a picture and gives it to a girl he likes, she returns it to him. His father loses his job and the family faces exceptionally difficult hardships. Christy, to his mother’s dismay, devises a plan to help his brothers steal coal.
Christy’s elder sister, who was always very nice to him, gets pregnant and has to get married and leave home. Christy’s mother, who had been gradually gathering some savings in a tin in the fireplace, finally saves enough to buy him a wheelchair. He meets Dr. Eileen Cole, who takes him to her school for cerebral palsy patients and persuades a friend of hers to hold an exhibition of Christy’s work. Christy falls in love with Dr. Cole, but in the subsequent dinner, he learns she is engaged to be married. As a result, Christy considers suicide.
He and his mother build Christy his own private studio, but his father soon thereafter dies of a stroke. During the wake, Christy instigates a brawl. At this point, Christy starts writing his autobiography, My Left Foot. Dr. Cole returns and they resume their friendship. Meanwhile, at the fete, Christy asks Mary Carr to go out with him and they leave the fete together. An onscreen message indicates that they later got married.
Roger Ebert (
February 2, 1990
I am trying to imagine what it would be like to write this review with my left foot. Quite seriously. I imagine it would be a great nuisance - unless, of course, my left foot was the only part of my body over which I had control. If that were the case, I would thank God that there was still some avenue down which I could communicate with the world.
That is the story of Christy Brown (, born into a large, poor, loving family in a Dublin slum and considered for the first 10 years of his life to be hopelessly retarded. He was born with cerebral palsy, and his entire body was in revolt against him - all except the left foot, with which one day he picked up a piece of chalk and wrote a word on the floor. Everyone was amazed except for Christy's mother, who had always believed he knew what was going on. She could see it in his eyes.
The story of Christy Brown is one of the great stories of human courage and determination. He belongs on the same list with Helen Keller, and yet it is hard to imagine Christy being good company for the saintly Miss Keller, since he was not a saint himself but a ribald, boozing, wickedly gifted Irishman who simply happened to be handicapped.
Jim Sheridan's "My Left Foot" is the story of Christy's life, based on his autobiography and on the memories of those who knew him.
He was not an easy man to forget. Tiny and twisted, bearded and unkempt, he managed, despite his late start, to grow into a poet, a novelist, a painter and a lyrical chronicler of his own life. Like many geniuses, he was not an easy man to live with, and the movie makes that clear in its brilliant opening scene.
Perhaps concerned that we will mistake "My Left Foot" for one of those pious TV docudramas, the movie begins in the middle of one of Christy's typical manipulations. He is backstage in the library of a great British country home where he is soon to be brought out to be given an award. He has a pint of whiskey hidden in his jacket pocket, with a straw to allow him to sip it. But a hired nurse is watching him with a gimlet eye. Trying to get her out of the way for a second, he asks her for a light for his cigarette.
"But Mr. Brown," she says, "you know that smoking is not good for you." "I didn't ask for a f - - - - - - psychological lecture," he replies. "I only asked for a f - - - - - - light." It is the perfect opening scene, because it breaks the ice. We know that it is all right to laugh with Christy, and not to be intimidated by the great burden of his life. And as the movie develops, it is startling how much of it plays as comedy - startling, unless we remember the universal Irish trait of black humor, in which the best laughter, the wicked laughter, is born out of hard times and bad luck.
"My Left Foot" charts Christy's life from his earliest days until his greatest triumph, but the key scene in the movie may be one that takes place shortly after he is born. His father goes into the local pub to have a pint and consider the fact that his son has been born handicapped, and then he stubbornly makes the statement that no son of his will be sent to a "home." The decision to raise Christy as part of a large and loving family is probably what saved his life, for a man of such intelligence would have been destroyed by an institution.
His brilliant mind, trapped inside his imperfect body, would have gone mad from calling for help.
Christy is played in the early scenes by Hugh O'Conor ( and from his teenage years onward by Daniel Day-Lewis ( The two actors fit Christy's life together into one seamless performance of astonishing beauty and strength. There is an early scene in which Christy's brothers and other neighbor kids are playing soccer in the street, and crippled Christy, playing goalie, defends the goal by deflecting the ball with his head. There is great laughter and cheering all around, but the heart of the scene is secure: This child is not being protected in some sort of cocoon of sympathy, but is being raised in the middle of life, hard knocks and all. This is reinforced in other scenes where Christy's siblings dump him in a barrow and wheel him around to their games.
As he watched and listened, the boy was making the observations that would inform his lifework. His novel Down all the Days and his other writings see Dublin street life with a clarity that is only possible because he was raised right in the middle of it and yet was always an outsider. As a painter, he saw Dublin in the same way: as a stage upon which people did things he was intimately familiar with and yet would never do himself.
Christy's life as a man was not easy. He was willful and arrogant, and right from the first time he tasted whiskey he knew there was at least one way to escape from the cage of his body. Like all men, he desired love, and there is a heartbreaking sequence in which he develops a crush on a teacher who works with him on speech therapy and loves Christy, but not in the romantic way that he imagines. Learning of her engagement, he creates a scene in a restaurant that in the power of its hurt and anger is almost unbearable.
He drank more. He was demanding. Like all bright people forced to depend on others, he was filled with frustration. A woman did finally come into his life, a nurse who became his wife and loved him until the end, but by then happiness was conditional for Christy, because he was an alcoholic. Since he could not obtain booze on his own - since it had to be brought to him and provided to him - there is the temptation to ask why his loved ones didn't simply shut him off. But of course that would have been a cruel exploitation of his weakness, and then, too, Christy was a genius at instilling guilt.
"My Left Foot" is a great film for many reasons, but the most important is that it gives us such a complete picture of this man's life. It is not an inspirational movie, although it inspires. It is not a sympathetic movie, although it inspires sympathy. It is the story of a stubborn, difficult, blessed and gifted man who was dealt a bad hand, who played it brilliantly, and who left us some good books, some good paintings and the example of his courage. It must not have been easy.
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