TRANSFATTY LIVES — Transcending Illness Through Filmmaking


By Silje Solland (Ebert Young Writers Participant)

An internet phenomenon, an artist, an unconventional young adult. This was Patrick Sean O’Brien. He made interesting videos and had fans all over the United States praising him for his various projects ranging from hilarious sketches to mixing music.

TRANSFATTY LIVES perfectly shows how a man can choose to live with the incurable disease of ALS. Directing his own story, he defies many of the compositions creating his own personal signatures as he shows his story uncensored, driven by his sense of humor in dark moments. Filmed mostly as a combination of home videos, it brings a sense of O’Brien as a man of massive strength. During the first half hour, it is clear that he had the ability to portray his own ways of visualization by onscreen directing. In one scene he is walking up stairs with the help of two family members and you hear him direct his sister as to how he wants the shot to look like. “Walk behind me, and film me from behind walking up the stairs,” he says, and we witness these changes unfold. This atmosphere creates a raw, unique touch to his personal journey.

Patrick’s family all describe him as funny. There is never a dull moment around him, and his touch of humor is never left his side while fighting. “At least my middle finger works,” he says and tries to control his fingers even though they are not functioning properly due to his illness. Yet, the most memorable moments in his film are completely uncensored. O’Brien shows no fear of his own nudity, especially in a scene where his father is trying to help him in the bathtub. One long clip shows his father lifting him from his wheelchair; holding him up in the shower. Soon, his father needs help from the people filming as Patrick is falling down. By including serious moments, he creates a balance that not only focuses on him being sick, but what the illness actually does to the body.

Patrick O’Brien gives ALS a face. Letting everyone see his pain and major challenges ranging from love to depression, he inspires awareness to the people encouraging research and support. My uncle died from this illness last Christmas, and unfortunately I never had the chance to experience truly first hand how he dealt with it, but this documentary gave me an insight into ALS that I thought was too late for me to find out. Heartwarming and asymmetrical, this film proves that even through the darkest moments there is always a light and inspiration to keep fighting the life that you are given.


Photos courtesy of Hawaii International Film Festival

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