Learning Difficulty





Recommended by Title

Recommended by Disability

Limb & Spinal Conditions: Major Films  
TitlePassion Fish (1992)
Alternative/Original Title
DisabilityLimb Paraplegia
DirectorJohn Sayles
CastMary McDonnell Alfre Woodard David Strathairn Vondie Curtis-Hall Angela Bassett Nora Dunn Sheila Kelley Mary Portser Maggie Renzi
NotesThis is a hugely enjoyable film. No guns, no violence, almost no nudity, no melodrama just a fair slice of swearing. Yet an adult film examining in detail and at length the relationship between two women. This film is included here and is reviewed generally as one about a paraplegic. But the disability is incidental, or rather it is the catalyst for the film's being. McDonnell is an actress in a day-time soap with a pretty cynical attitude to the world. She becomes a paraplegic after a car accident and on leaving hospital returns to a large beautiful house in Louisiana which was the family home. But we don't meet the family, except for an uncle who drops in later. McDonnell is almost wholly dependent on a paid carer. And some of us will find familiar the way in which the egoistical McDonnell gets through a series of paid carers. The film is honest about these confrontations, blaming both McDonnell and the carers. Then along comes Alfre Woodward. McDonnell is very good in the part, Alfre Woodward is superb. In fact all the actors are good including the fluffy, southern blondes who pay a visit. Woodward is the answer to what McDonnell has become; the "bitch on wheels". Slowly she persuades McDonnell to become more independent, to find new meaning in life (after soap), and most of all to get her off heavy drinking. We discover that Woodward's persistence is because she needs the job and we learn later because she has been through a recovery program for drug-addiction. We learn much about both their past, we meet people from their past but there are no easy resolutions. Neither McDonnel's lust for a distant figure from her past, or Woodward's hoped for reconciliation with her estranged daughter are fulfilled. But there is promise for a better future. provided both of them work at it. But what is truly established is the friendship between the two women. The film is over long in that some of the cameos like the visit from three women who were with McDonnell in the soap doesn't serve a distinct purpose. A stronger criticism in terms of this list is the portrayal of disability. Though the film is generally realistic it avoids some of the unpleasantness of being paraplegic. The film is mainly about the problems of coming to terms with the condition. McDonnell mentions wetting herself, about using a catheter but we see nothing about the tiresome application of this aspect of paraplegia especially when she drinks so much alcohol. She doesn't become overweight through lack of exercise or deteriorate physically in other ways. The aspect of compensation (financial) is mentioned once but not followed through. Nevertheless an inspirational film. Highly recommended. See also the review at The Women's Studies Database: http://www.inform.umd.edu/EdRes/Topic/WomensStudies/FilmReviews/passion-fish-mcalister

 Back to Home Page