I believe we can all learn a lot from art – music, of course, but also film, literature, dance, sculpture, painting, and every other form of human expression. This knowledge is different from what we gain through scientific research, and although it is highly subjective, artistic knowing can have a great impact on how we live and work.
So, in the spirit of learning from art, I wanted to share some thoughts on a movie I watched recently.* “The Intouchables” is a French film starring François Cluzet and Omar Sy, and it is based on the true story of a wealthy businessman who was left a quadriplegic after a paragliding accident. The film starts with Phillipe (Cluzet) interviewing potential in-home caregivers. He needs someone to help him with dressing, bathing, exercise, and every other activity of daily living. Candidates parade through, touting their training and experience, and telling how much they love working with the disabled. Then, Driss (Sy) storms his way into the interview room. This young black man dressed in street clothes tells Phillipe that he’s tired of waiting, that he’s sure he won’t get the job, and that he just needs a signature to show that he applied for the job so he can pick up his welfare check. Phillipe tells him to come back the next day, and when Driss returns, another member of the household staff starts training him for his new job.
It’s obvious from the start that Phillipe and Driss have little in common. Phillipe is a privileged aristocrat who loves classical music, poetry, and contemporary art. Driss is an ex-con, raised in the projects with no father in sight. Yet, these two men connect in what is obviously a meaningful, treasured relationship for both of them.
After watching this film, I can see four central messages for caregivers and care recipients alike:
Sometimes professionalism creates distance in a relationship. The film sets this up from some of the first scenes in the movie as potential caregivers interview with Philippe. Each one of them is prepared and proper. Driss, on the other hand, is not an Eldercare Professional, not in those first scenes nor in the final ones. In one scene, he accidentally touches Philippe’s leg with a hot teapot, and seeing no reaction, tries pouring hot water on Philippe’s leg. Another caregiver is horrified (as I would be!), but Philippe just asks Driss whether he’s done experimenting. In another scene, Driss shaves Philippe’s facial hair into various hilarious fashions, concluding with the tiny mustache seen on Adolf Hitler. These are just two examples of how Driss does not shy away from Philippe’s disability, and rather than coming across as disrespectful and unprofessional, it seems that Driss is treating Philippe like a man first and foremost, with the disability as a secondary – and sometimes humorous – characteristic. I certainly would not advocate making fun of someone’s physical disability, but I do appreciate that walking on eggshells around a person with a disability could actually hurt more than help when it comes to feelings of isolation from the non-disabled public.
Caregivers can be vulnerable, too. Part of having a real relationship with another person is allowing vulnerability for both parties – the care recipient and the caregiver. Here, some of the difficulties in Driss’s personal life make their way into the movie, necessitating compassion and understanding on Philippe’s part as well. In a more lighthearted scene, Driss tries paragliding along with Philippe, and he is absolutely terrified. How wonderful is it, though, that he’s willing to try that out in front of his employer?
Music makes connections. I always love to see musical moments, and this movie has several! In their first meeting, Driss tells Philippe he should be listening to Earth, Wind, and Fire rather than Berlioz. Later, Driss accompanies Philippe to an opera, breaking out in laughter when Philippe tells him it will be four hours long. Then, Philippe has a chamber music concert for his birthday party, which Driss listens to respectfully. During the clean-up time, though, Driss puts Earth, Wind, and Fire on the record player, and everyone starts dancing. You can see that Philippe can feel the rhythm of the music and the dance, even though he can’t move his body on his own. This musical moment is one of the most powerful in the movie, I think. In any case, I think it’s especially telling that these men connect through music even though they don’t have the same music preferences. Sometimes we put too much weight on preferred music, when people can connect through non-preferred music as well.
Nothing is more healing that a quality, human relationship. The central message of this movie is that both men find joy and healing in their friendship, despite their differences. Theirs is much more than an employee-employer relationship, and because of it, Philippe finds new happiness in his family relationships, Driss finds out that he can be a productive, valuable member of society rather than just another ex-con, and both men try new things and share new experiences. Pills and procedures and protocols simply cannot do all the work of healing.
This movie is a heartwarming delight, and I would definitely recommend checking it out! You can watch the preview below, then find a showing in your area.
* I’ve reviewed other movies and albums here, all of which have been sources of artistic learning for me. Check out the review tag to see them all.