As a freshly injured C5-6 quad in the early ’80s, I was angry at the world, slamming doors and punching walls until my knuckles were bloody. My relationship with paralysis was new and confusing, and I hurled my spiteful wrath at those who least deserved it: my parents.
You just don’t understand, I’d yell, convinced that the physical and emotional complexity of disability was incomprehensible to Mom, Dad and everyone else in the nondisabled world. The frustration was almost unbearable: You just don’t understand.
Cut to January 2005: The anger is gone, but some of the frustration lingers. I’ve been a quad for 26 years and a film critic for 20. I’ve never seriously considered suicide. I chose to live and never regretted that choice. It’s been a life worth living, spiced with fascinating developments I could never have anticipated.
Take Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby, for example. Over this one controversial movie, my personal and professional lives clashed as never before. Suddenly I was confronted with difficult questions, complicated answers. How could a quadriplegic film critic praise a movie that seemed to suggest that quadriplegics were better off dead? How could I admire a respected filmmaker and movie star who had lobbied to compromise the Americans with Disabilities Act?
These questions arise in a climate of persistent ignorance and potential enlightenment, where black and white is replaced by infinite shades of gray. The answers are found in a maelstrom of mixed emotions and clashing ideologies. At a stormy crossroads of art and politics, a passion for movies collides with punditry and vitriol, where incompatible agendas breed perpetual cycles of conflict. Proceed with caution, I warned myself, because people just don’t understand.
I first saw Million Dollar Baby at a public preview in mid-December 2004. A fellow reviewer hinted of a death in the plotline. Apart from that, I knew nothing of the movie’s so-called “pro-euthanasia” theme, or that it ended with the “mercy killing” of a quadriplegic. Like most people, I felt devas