Chained for Life (4 stars)

Chained for Life

The representation of disability and disfigurement is explored with empathy by Aaron Schimberg

The perpetuation of negative stereotypes when it comes to any type of minority is an ongoing discussion that deserves a nuanced approach. Tackling the representation of disability and disfigurement in cinema, filmmaker Aaron Schimberg does just that with a multi-layered drama that doesn't lean on obvious outrage.

The considered interactions between his players reveal a tricky cinematic history, with direct references to Tod Brownings' 1932 landmark Freaks and Jim Sheridan's Oscar-winning My Left Foot, among many others. From exploitation for shock value to valuable sensitive portrayals, condescending inspirational porn and the lazy trope of facial scarring as an indicator of evil (something which the BFI has refused to fund anymore) there's lots to mull over.

Writer-director Schimberg uses a film within a film construct which not only blurs the line between fantasy and reality to gorgeously dreamy and woozily melancholic ends, but also cannily gauges the mood behind the scenes in a similar way to François Truffaut's Day for Night. As the cast and crew of a 1940s-era production get to grips with their assigned roles, themes of consent, cruelty and confidence rise to the fore. Jess Weixler (Teeth) stars as a well-meaning actress playing a blind woman alongside Adam Pearson (Under the Skin), who plays her onscreen love interest. They're guided by a pretentious German director (Charlie Korsmo), whose inspirations range from Orson Welles to The Muppet Movie.

Chained for Life locates the humour in absurd assumptions and ableist attitudes that certain filmmakers have adopted to those who they consider other. It conveys empathy without providing easy answers, pokes fun at beauty standards, and even targets critics making points about the value of people telling their own stories.

Limited release from Fri 25 Oct.

Chained For Life

  • 4 stars
  • 2018
  • USA
  • 1h 31min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Aaron Schimberg
  • Cast: Jess Weixler, Adam Pearson, Stephen Plunkett
  • UK release: 25 October 2019

Mabel (Weixler) is a well-meaning actress playing a blind woman, opposite Rosenthal (Pearson), in the English-language debut film of Herr Director (Korsmo). Schimberg tackles the representation of disability and disfigurement in cinema with a funny, nuanced, multi-layered drama that doesn’t provide easy answers.