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It’s Not Yet Dark, the heart-wrenching yet thoroughly uplifting film by documentarian Frankie Fenton, recounts the story of poet, writer and filmmaker Simon Fitzmaurice, who wrote and directed the award-winning 2015 drama My Name is Emily, despite having been diagnosed with MND some years earlier, becoming completely paralyzed and able to communicate only through eye-tracking computer technology.
Told through the talking heads-style reminiscences of those closest to him – his wife Ruth, his parents, his sister – and also through the narration of Colin Farrell acting ostensibly as Simon’s “voice” as he recites passages from Simon’s 2014 autobiography of the same name, It’s Not Yet Dark begins with recollections of a bright, boisterous but fairly typical young lad raised in County Wicklow on the east coast of Ireland. He was a popular fellow with rugged, almost stereotypically good looks and a propensity for the written word, poetry being his first love. He met his next and greatest love, Ruth, while they were students.
In 2008 Simon took a short film he’d written/directed to the Sundance Film Festival, to moderate acclaim. It was immediately after this, just as his career was about to really take off, that his world collapsed in on him following a trip to the doctor to investigate a “floppy” feeling in his foot. Simon was informed that he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease or motor neurone disease, an illness that destroys the neurons which enable the patient to move their body, and for which there is no known cure. He was given three to four more years to live.
Some of the most affecting pieces of the movie come at this point as, whilst in denial and looking as a family for the “solution” to this setback, Simon begins chronicling specific events, in writing and sometimes on videotape for us to witness: Chasing the giddy and squealing youngest of his three children around the kitchen and being aware that it may well be the last time he runs (it is); his final dance, at his sister’s wedding reception; the last time he walks, attempting to exercise his legs up and down his own hallway. Colin Farrell recounts Simon’s thoughts, Ruth Fitzmaurice tells us her thoughts directly as she recalls her husband’s physical regression, crying as she does so, and it’s hard to watch. This disease is eating him, from the toes up.
Ruth insists that they take a holiday to Australia which turns into a six-month staycation. It’s a move which reinvigorates them both, and they decide to try for another child while they’re still able. They have twins. The disease will not halt its inexorable march – this is not a Hollywood fiction – but it slows under Simon’s willpower and desire to experience his newborn children and to get his movie made, with the help of the sort of eye-tracking computer technology used by Dr. Stephen Hawking. It goes without saying that his accomplishments here under such physical duress are incredibly inspiring. My Name is Emily, starring Evanna Lynch (the Harry Potter franchise) and Michael Smiley (A Field in England) was well reviewed and garnered recognition and praise at the Irish Film and Television Awards.
As uplifting a tale as It’s Not Yet Dark is, it is one which, since its release, now comes with a sad yet inevitable addendum: Simon Fitzmaurice succumbed to the effects of his condition on October 26th, 2017. This touching tribute to his fight to keep alive and, more importantly, to keep living for as long as he could is well worth 75 minutes of anybody’s time and is available on various VOD platforms now.
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