The word "inspirational" gets tossed around a lot.
Athletes inspire us. Musicians inspire us. Actors and actresses inspire us. Sometimes, it's firefighters or police officers or soldiers or a favored friend or relative who inspires us.
We're human beings. We want to be inspired.
Then, there are those people whose ability to inspire us seems to transcend our everyday realities. These are the people whose very presence seems to feed our soul in ways that are difficult to even express. These are the people who don't just survive but thrive. These are the people who overcome the seemingly insurmountable. These are the people whose lives exude the kind of hope and magic and wonder that, if we're being completely honest, gives us the strength to go on another day and reminds us just incredibly brilliant and awesome life can be.
Meet Matty Christian.
Born in 1983 in Canton, Massachusetts without full limbs and a tongue to Allie and Jerry Christian, Matthew Christian started out life seemingly destined to inspire those around him not because of how he dealt with having a disability but, perhaps more than anything, because he refused to live his life as if he even had one.
Matty was so young when first fitted for leg prostheses that the company working with him had to adjust how they made them to fit his special needs, yet his parents still got to experience that remarkable thrill one gets in watching their child learn to walk.
Matty grew up being just as physically active as his younger brother Michael, though there were times when his physical challenges would ultimately get in the way. Still, he never gave up and played multiple sports.
Matty worked hard. Matty played hard. Matty lived life fully and he lived life by example. Even when he was told "No!," which wasn't often, Matty refused to take that "No!" as a final answer.
Let's be honest. We live in a world where it's easy to become victimized by our circumstances, but Matty steadfastly refused to perform at anything less than his best.
Raising Matty Christian isn't just Matty's story, but it's also the story of the family that raised him and the friends who loved him and the community that continues to embrace both his strengths and weaknesses, joys and sorrows. Raising Matty Christian certainly isn't about a "disabled man," because Matty never allowed his disability to show up first in the equation. Raising Matty Christian, a full-length feature documentary from Rhode Island filmmaker Christian de Rezendes, is about a young man faced with physical challenges that would make an awful lot of human beings curl up into a fetal position and want to die from the pain or the shame or just the frustration of it all and how that young man lived a life full-on radiating inspiration with just about every breath.
Raising Matty Christian is also about a human being named Matty Christian, a young man for whom the challenge of living with so many challenges was emotionally and physically exhausting. It's about a young man who inspired, but who didn't always make inspirational choices and who likely had no real clue just how much he had improved the lives of those around him.
Raising Matty Christian will make you laugh. It will make you cry. It will inspire you and it will sadden you.
That's life, you know?
I mean, sure, we love hearing about the people who live the seemingly perfect existence and whose life seems perfectly spotless and awesome and otherworldly.
But, doesn't it seem like sooner or later we hear the truth?
We are human. They are human.
Raising Matty Christian captures Matty's humanity in a straightforward and honest way, but it never loses sight of this young man who overcame insurmountable odds, got a college degree, then ended up getting his M.B.A. knowing that he was being groomed to one day take over the family business. Raising Matty Christian honestly deals with Matty's occasional frustrations over being looked at differently and the inevitable comments that would follow, but it also never loses sight of how this awesome young man without full limbs served as a Personal Care Attendant at a camp for young people with even more severe disabilities.
That's what really inspires in Raising Matty Christian. It's not just that Matty overcame the odds and achieved awesome and inspiring things, but that he was fully human with weaknesses and feelings and insecurities and stunningly human moments and still overcame the odds and achieved awesome and inspiring things.
Filmed using an abundance of archival footage, home movies, and interviews with Matty's family and friends, Raising Matty Christian isn't your standard-issue inspirational biopic but instead it's a fully developed and lovingly realized portrait of one young man's life and how it continues to inspire those around him. At times, Raising Matty Christian feels like we've been invited into a family's home movies and there are other times when it becomes even more apparent that we've been invited into a family's journey of life and loss, hope and healing.
For as long as I've been following the films of Christian de Rezendes, he's always had a knack for creating intelligent films that get to the heart of the matter with insight and sensitivity. Raising Matty Christian is no exception. It's a film made by a filmmaker who honestly seems to understand that Matty Christian wasn't inspirational because of what he did but because of who he was as a human being. De Rezendes also never treated Matty, or any of the individuals with disabilities interviewed in the film, as "disabled individuals" but instead patiently followed their interviews and, quite refreshingly, didn't subtitle those for whom speech was a bit more challenging.
Indeed, there's that ugly word "was" and it's impossible to ignore. Matty's unexpected death in 2009 ended a life that many considered to be destined for true greatness, but if really understand what's being shown in Raising Matty Christian then you'll fully understand that Matty did achieve that greatness even if he didn't get to fully live into it.
There are film experiences that leave you thinking and feeling long after the closing credits have rolled. There are film experiences that turn you into a different human being than you were before you saw the film. Just like there are people like Matty Christian who just naturally seem to inspire everyone they meet, so too there are films that inspire you to leave the theater and live into the glorious and wonderful human being you were born to me.
Raising Matty Christian is just that type of film and I really hope you get a chance to check it out.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic