Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O'Brien NR

Amazon Instant Video

(23) IMDb 7.7/10

Academy Award winning portrait of writer Mark O'Brien, who contracted polio as a child and spent much of his life in an iron lung.

Starring:
Mark O'Brien, Elizabeth Duvall
Runtime:
36 minutes

Available to watch on supported devices.

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Product Details

Genres Documentary
Director Jessica Yu
Starring Mark O'Brien, Elizabeth Duvall
Supporting actors Ian Berzon
Studio Icarus Films
MPAA rating NR (Not Rated)
Rental rights 7-day viewing period. Details
Purchase rights Stream instantly and download to 2 locations Details
Format Amazon Instant Video (streaming online video and digital download)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Holmz on October 22, 2011
Format: Amazon Instant Video
If you are looking for a happy movie, then this is not the movie that you are looking for.

It is the saddest and most heart wrenching movie I have seen, and I have seen a few.
But equally it is a movie with a lot of hope and dignity and is intimate.
And one of the best documentaries I have seen.
You will feel like you got more than 35 minutes worth of movie out of it.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Margaret in NY on November 8, 2012
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I just watched this film for the second time. The first time was as a graduate student in health advocacy at Sarah Lawrence--it was part of the program, along with reading about Harriet McBryde Johnson, who advocated for the disabled (see [...]

It is an opportunity to learn from the experts. Mark O'Brien is deadly funny and is now the subject of a film, "The Sessions." One of the most heartbreaking lines in the original documentary is that he feels he needs to become lovable, not really realizing that he already is. I take to heart his thought that we ALL become disabled eventually, unless we die first.

O'Brien's spirit is too strong for this film to be depressing--it is difficult to truly consider, and it is thought-provoking. Filmed in short snippets, it is under 40 minutes in length. There are subtitles because the audio is not always clear. Well worth the time.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jackie on November 1, 2012
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Mark O'Brien was a true man. He did not consider his disability an excuse for not accomplishing his goals - it was his driver. There are so many technological advancements now that he would have been even more prolific in his writing. This man was a true inspiration and I can only mourn his loss.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Fred Forman on November 6, 2012
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If you plan on seeing The Sessions, seeing Breathing Lessons first is essential. Once you get to know the real Mark O'Brien, seeing John Hawkes portray him is astonishing. Indeed, it gives a finer appreciation for the whole movie.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Kilgore Trout on December 23, 2012
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Why is it that people like this gentleman, Mark O'Brien and the late Ed Roberts--both of whom have done so much to bring the issues of living with disability to the attention of the world's gate-keepers--are relegated to live their lives in squalor and loneliness in their last days?!

I loved how Mr. O'Brien not only talked about issues surrounding his schooling and living autonomously, but also spoke frankly about his yearning for a soulmate, the touch of another person sexually and being seen by others as a total person with the needs of any living being here on earth.

He really gets across the truism that all who walk this earth will some day have to live with their own disability and possibly go through the ostricism that he did in his all-too-short lifetime.

This film should be mandatory for all people to watch.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Careful buyer on January 28, 2013
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This is a wonderful documentary because it shows the reality of living independently, but with a fairly complete disability. Mark O'Brien is intelligent, and funny! He sends some very appropriate messages about the challenges of being disabled, the acceptance (by society) of limitations, and the responsibility of both the person and society to allow him and the disabled to live fully, whatever life in which they exist. After all, his brain functions beautifully. I am so glad I watched this, and probably would not have done so if it had not been for the movie, The Sessions.
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I very much appreciated hearing about Mark O’Brien’s life—from Mark O’Brien! In addition to the opportunity to hear some of his writings and poetry, the film offers an inside story on the disability rights movement in the United States—something many of us know far too little about. A recent Hollywood film about O’Brien (The Sessions) highlights a brief period in his life (see a helpful critique at [...] ) and is based on an article he wrote in 1990 (which can be accessed at [...] . I especially appreciate Breathing Lessons because it does not follow the problematic Hollywood habit (as does The Sessions) of hiring enabled (not disabled) actors to play a disabled person. This is a practice that has been in place since the earliest days of cinematography and is akin to the historic use of racialized caricatures such as blackface makeup. As Fiona Whittington-Walsh (2002) has argued, “[F]ilms with a disability theme are metaphorical, stigmatizing individuals with such characteristics as: innocent and child-like; savants; isolated and pathologised; self-sacrificing saviours; asexual and dependent; and violent (Zola,1985; Norden, 1994; Wahl, 1995). However, this form of showcasing characters with disabilities is scared with not only these inaccurate stereotypical portrayals, but actors who are not disabled portray the characters with disabilities. A film would never be made today casting Anthony Hopkins, garnished in makeup, portraying Nelson Mandela—it would be a moral outrage, and yet this is continuing to happen to the most marginalised and oppressed group” (p.696).

Whittington-Walsh, F. (2002). From freaks to savants: Disability and hegemony from the Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) to Sling Blade (1997). Disability & Society, 17(6), 695-707. doi: 10.1080/0968759022000010461
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Breathing Lessons is the true story/documentary film about a man who has spent his life in an iron lung. He appears on screen and is the narrator, and his performance was deeply moving for me. His courage and his inner strength are - the only word is, inspiring. It's a terrible pun, because he can't breathe (literally in-spire) on his own. The presentation is gritty and unvarnished. The film was made after the period in his life covered by The Sessions (also viewed on Amazon)
The Sessions with Helen Hunt is basically one chapter of the same story cleaned up and prettified and has an entirely different focus. In itself it's a remarkably tasteful handling of a potentially awkward subject - sex therapy for a quadriplegic. The two should be seen back to back, in my opinion. It makes a remarkable evening.
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