The not-so-sweet hereafter
Jake Gyllenhaal’s film about a Boston Marathon bombing victim shows survival is only the first step
Maybe St Paul’s to blame. Certainly he helped create the prevailing expectation that a seismic life event — in his case, being struck blind by heavenly forces on the road to Damascus — can turn a “bad” dude (he participated in the stoning of St Stephen!) into a “good” one (he wrote most of the New Testament!). There’s nothing like grave trauma, we seem to feel, to find out what kind of person you really are.
Which may make you think that you know how Stronger, the film from David Gordon Green, starring and produced by Jake Gyllenhaal, is going to play out. It’s the true story of Jeff Bauman, a Costco employee who lives with his mother, and went to the 2013 Boston Marathon to see his on-off girlfriend Erin Hurley cross the finish line. Except he never did, because the Tsarnaev brothers’ bomb exploded at 2.49pm, and severed both of Bauman’s legs.
So you can take it from here, right? He’s going to get his life together, learn to walk on his prosthetic legs, marry Erin, maybe one day even throw the first pitch at a Red Sox game. And you’d be correct, of course, only the strength of Green’s film, and Gyllenhaal’s already Oscar-touted performance, is to show that the Damascene road is not a straight one. Bauman may have had his faults before the race, but they didn’t disappear with his lower legs. In the end, it’s not buying into the pat ideas of heroism the world seems to want to push onto him that makes Bauman a stronger man, and this a stronger movie.
Stronger is out in cinemas now
Jake Gyllenhaal and director David Gordon Green on the set of Stronger