In “Gleason“, viewers see that could not be further from the truth.
The documentary follows Gleason, who spent nine years in the NFL with the New Orleans Saints and became a folk hero when he blocked a punt that led to a touchdown just 1:27 into the Saints’ first home game after Hurricane Katrina, as he suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
The harsh look at how ALS devastates Gleason’s body is unflinching, and viewers are hit with a range of emotions watching Gleason lose his ability to walk, talk, control his bowels, and every ally breath on his own.
Much of the footage is provided by Gleason, who is filming a video blog for his son. His wife, Michel, finds out she is pregnant just weeks after her husband’s diagnosis.As difficult as it is to watch Gleason’s body betray him, it is equally as tough to watch the emotional effect it has on his wife. Her strength is evident as she struggles with the pressures of a newborn and with being the chief caretaker of her husband. The grace and dignity she shows, even when it’s clear she’s overwhelmed, shows the heroic nature of caretakers everywhere.
As Gleason struggles with how he will impact his own son (named Rivers), he begins to explore other father-son relationships. He had several emotional moments with his own dad, who frustrates Steve on a umber of occasions by questioning his son’s faith and due to his lack of understanding of ALS. The two do clearly love and respect one another, however.
Another emotional father-son moment comes when Gleason has the opportunity to interview Pearl Jam vocalist Eddie Vedder. When Gleason asks Vedder what he would have wanted to know about his dad, who died before Vedder knew him, the emotion on Vedder’s face speaks volumes. Gleason’s question brings tears to the singer’s eyes.
Though Gleason is heart-wrenching at times (bring plenty of Kleenex), it is also funny and uplifting. Both Steve and Michel, as well as friend and caretaker, Blair, maintain a sense of humor throughout. Steve and Michel continue to experience life, maintaining the adventures they started when dating.
Gleason and his family, including Michels father, have formed Team Gleason, which not only funded equipment and trips for ALS patients, but also pushed Congress to pass laws to supply communication devices to all who need them. Another scene shows Michel informing a man the foundation had bought tickets for he and his son to go to Italy together. The impact is indescribable.
Gleason said he understands that many are unsure whether they can see the film. He tweeted this the other day:
Do yourself a favor: go see “Gleason”. It’s an amazing story and wil introduce some true heroes to you.