Monday, April 25, 2011


A quick note, then it's back to work:

Just saw THE KING'S SPEECH--finally. A fine, fine film … dramatically, cinematically, tonally, textually, texturely, musically, lightingly, mood-wise, etc., etc. The best picture Oscar was well deserved.


From a disability-consciousness perspective, sorry to say it bothered me.

Now, this is a SPOILER ALERT, but by the end, King George VI is not so much cured of his speech disability as empowered to cope with it better. That's the good news.

Throughout much of the film, however, his stammering seems a sort of stand in for or emblem of the abuse he's endured from his stern father, teasing schoolmates, and others.

Does being forced to use your right hand when you're naturally left-handed, for instance, and other indignities, cause speech impediments? Really?

Of course, the movie doesn't say as much outright. And it is based on a true story. But I presume we don't actually know what exactly went on in the Prince of York's speech therapy sessions. Did all these personal matters truly get discussed? Much of the time, his treatments look more like psychotherapy than vocal rehab.

I guess that's the point. Throat exercises weren't enough. It took a combination of silly things like rolling around on the floor AND confidence-building psychoanalysis to make poor Bertie ready physically and emotionally to wear the crown.

Am I off-base here?

(In some sense it reminded me of GOOD WILL HUNTING. Which was a different kind of coming-of-age movie about a magical therapist, minus the physical impairment.)

THE KING'S SPEECH is ultimately about overcoming an affliction, is it not? No one else is made to change their ways, to meet him halfway, to accept or to accommodate. Perhaps that's a just sign of those times, the 1930s. You had to adapt to society's expectations or get out of the way.

But think of the dramatic effect if at least one person had said "let's change what WE do to be fair to you and your speech disability." Instead, he himself has to change--to work at making others more comfortable with him.

Now, I DID like the bit about Hitler being a good public speaker. Fluent, strong speech doesn't make you a good person.

Nevertheless, it further struck me that it's Bertie's wife Elizabeth who first gets him the help he needs. Either no one else felt he needed help before, or cared enough to try, or everyone else dismissed him as hopeless. We're made to see her actions--the inciting incident of the storyline--as an expression of love. She, in effect, saves him.

I wonder if that part is true-to-life. It's a nice, romantic notion. But how many of us with disabilities have learned it is, in fact, entirely up to us to resolve our problems--to fight for what we need and deserve, whether that's a specific technological aid or plain old justice!

No matter how supportive those around us may be, they can't fix us or solve our issues. They can't lead us in pursuing rehab, finding appropriate assistive devices, or seeking equality. In fact, those around us who do care often become understandably exhausted, lose patience. Why not? They have that choice. They can even walk away from the frustrations.

Whereas we can't. When your life or quality of life is on the line, you don't give up.

On a happier note, I was delighted to receive a pleasant e-mail about an NPR piece I recorded several years ago. I'm glad people are still finding it useful. He asked me to share a link: