When I Walk is a raw and riveting documentary which gives viewers an intimate glimpse into the life and personal struggle of a man in the prime of his life who finds himself diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Director Jason DaSilva was a young, successful filmmaker when at age 25 he began his long battle with the debilitating and incurable disease.
When I Walk features original artwork as well as a number of animation sequences interspersed throughout the film. In this documentary DaSilva gives viewers an unflinching and very personal portrait of his life and the emotional as well as physical toll his disease takes on him as well as members of his family. During the course of the film we see with heartbreaking honesty how multiple sclerosis takes away his ability to walk, feed himself, and even see.
One of the major themes in When I Walk is the importance of family, religion, and art. Using old footage shot during DaSilva’s childhood we are able to witness not only the director’s artistic development but the important role his family, particularly his mother, plays in his life. Near the beginning of the documentary DaSilva has a one on one conversation with his mother. The older woman’s disposition can be described as being rather unemotional and pragmatic. She doesn’t pity her son or offer him a lot of sympathy, instead she muses about how each one of us are, “just here for a short while” and how we all only get one life. To stop her son from feeling sorry for himself she then draws attention to the sad plight of people whose lives are far worse than his. In a later scene DaSilva’s mother brings an element of comic relief to the documentary. While filming a shot of DaSilva riding along on his scooter she nervously yells out to him, “not too fast!” as if she were a nervous mother reprimanding her son for speeding in his car.
DaSilva succeeds at documenting the progress of multiple sclerosis from the point of view of someone suffering from it. The film also provides insightful medical information regarding the disease. As viewers, we learn, for example, that it’s an inflammatory disease which causes nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord to break down and attack healthy cells. During the course of the film DaSilva experiments with a number of treatments including chemotherapy and a new and controversial vascular procedure known as liberation therapy which is designed to unblock blood vessels. In terms of more unconventional methods DaSilva travels to India where he employs various natural Indian techniques to cure his disease. His Catholic grandmother even pays for him to take a trip toLourdes , France. Once there DaSilva’s fragile body is bathed in what the faithful believe to be healing waters.
When I Walk also tells a true love story. Feeling alienated and alone DaSilva attends a multiple sclerosis support group where he meets Alice, a young woman whose mother also has the disease. Before long the couple grow closer and embark on a life together. Not long after they get married they are forced to confront the practical issues associated with living with someone coping with a progressively deteriorating disease. Alice takes on the persona of DaSilva’s primary caregiver and is witness to her husband becoming more and more dependent on her for his basic needs. She must feed and shave him as well as help him in and out of his wheelchair and scooter.
Intimate subjects such as sex, fertility, and death are also discussed in the film. When talking about the future DaSilva confesses, “I’m not gonna live past fifty which sucks”. He also muses about life before the disease saying, “I worked really hard till I was twenty five and then that’s it”.
With the support of his family, his love of filmmaking, and the loving relationship he shares with his wife DaSilva demonstrates bravery and courage. Although he isn’t afraid to depict his personal pain and feelings of despair onscreen the director always retains his will to live and continue on with his filmmaking career. Although When I Walk concludes on a positive note the documentary leaves viewers with a sad sense of the inevitable. Perhaps DaSilvo sums up his view on life with a line from the film, “Sometimes the best you can do is try”.
When I Walk premieres in Quebec on January 30th at 8 p.m. at Cinéma Excentris followed by a Q&A with the director as part of the Docville screenings. $11.75, $9.25 students/seniors.