Chained for Life (2018)

Chained for Life
Director: Aaron Schimberg
Writer: Aaron Schimberg
Cast: Jess Weixler, Adam Pearson, Stephen Plunkett, Charlie Korsmo, Sari Lennick
Part of: /slash Filmfestival
Seen on: 26.9.2019

Content Note: (critical treatment of) lookism, ableism

Mabel (Jess Weixler) is an actress, working on the film “God’s Mistakes” by a German director (Charlie Korsmo) in his English-language debut. The plot of the film revolves around a doctor who operates on disabled people – people like Rosenthal (Adam Pearson) who is Mabel’s co-star. Mabel – whose character is blind even though she is not – struggles to connect with Rosenthal, feeling awkward around his disfiguration. And Rosenthal isn’t the only disabled actor on set, and the abled people who organized everything are little prepared fo them.

Chained for Life takes a sharp look at lookism and ableism in Hollywood and generally in film-making, using the film-in-film structure perfectly to make striking points. I loved it.

The film psoter showing Rosenthal (Adam Pearson) and Mabel (Jess Weixler) sitting next to each other.

Chained for Life has many layers and each layer takes on another aspect of how disabled and disfigured people are treated generally and in film. This starts with the stories told about disabled and disfigured people (there is a scene where the disabled actors talk about the movies they previously starred in and the titles alone tell you everything you need to know about the films) to how the disabled actors are treated on set: the hotel isn’t accessible, so of course they stay in the hospital the film is shot in.

We have questions of casting – Mabel cripping up, for example – and in the contrast between the film portrayed and Chained for Life itself, we can see how important it is that disabled and disfigured people get to tell their own stories: God’s Mistakes (again, the title alone) casts disabled people as props and an abled director makes the film, while Chained for Life shows its disabled cast as people and is told by a disfigured director.

Mabel (Jess Weixler) and Rosenthal (Adam Pearson) in dancing position.

Towards the end, the film gets a little muddled with various other film-in-films almost intruding on the main storyline, but it’s the kinds of muddle that’s associative, productive and challenging. It was probably my favorite part of the film.

If there is one thing that I have to criticize, it’s that the film feels a little longer than it is. But in an otherwise so insightful and wonderful movie, that really isn’t a complaint at all.

Rosenthal (Adam Pearson) wearing a hospital gown and pointing a gun at a doctor.

Summarizing: a must see, if you ask me.

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