Does a brilliant mind ever slow down?
Director Patrick O’Brien’s won’t. You can see it whirring double-time throughout the electrifying TransFatty Lives, which documents the decade of his life since his amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (A.L.S., Lou Gehrig’s disease) diagnosis.
A.L.S. causes degeneration and death of motor neurons, severing the connection between mind and body, so while O’Brien’s brain maintains the frenetic pace that brought countless art projects to life before his illness took hold, his physical movement slows to nothing. See him struggle to descend the stairs of his Lower East Side walk-up for the last time, as his family moves him home to Maryland; hear his voice stretch out in slo-mo; watch him order fries at a drive-through in his motorized wheelchair and have a feeding tube inserted into his G.I. tract because he can’t swallow on his own anymore.
Throughout, O’Brien is relentless in his orders to family and friends to record every strange, tragic, ridiculous, undignified ordeal he endures; as he posits, “What if my diminishing physical abilities can be inversely proportional to my journey inward?” The result is TransFatty Lives, a doc as vibrant as its auteur’s mind, even as his body is rendered immobile. He weeps with joy when he meets his newborn son, whose body he’ll never be able to hold. Later, everyone weeps as O’Brien must finally undergo a tracheotomy, saying goodbye to his voice and his ability to breathe independently. But with an eye-motion-powered computer and synthetic voice, he never stops joking, thinking, or creating — his big, rambunctious brain just won’t quit.
Directed by Patrick Sean O’Brien
Opens December 25, Village East
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 22, 2015