Following Andrew Marr’s recent stroke and successful return to work, stroke and its consequences have been a national topic; stroke survivors and their families in the UK have gained hope that a stroke does not necessarily mean an end to one’s career or life. On the 29th of October 2014, the World Stroke Organization (WSO) celebrates the “World Stroke Day” through several international events to increase awareness about stroke and support stroke survivors and their carers across the world (http://www.world-stroke.org/newsletter/latest-updates/18-news/latest-updates/230-world-stroke-day-2014).
The new film “The possibilities are endless” reinforces the notion that there can be a rewarding, fulfilling life after stroke by telling the story of Edwyn Collins (singer, songwriter and front man of pop band “Orange Juice”). In 2005 Edwyn sustained two consecutive brain haemorrhages, and his wife and manager “Grace Maxwell” was told to expect the worst. After brain surgery and six months in hospital, Edwyn went home, but was still limited by right sided weakness, memory loss and significant speech impairment. In the early stages of his recovery, he could only say “yes, “no”, “Grace Maxwell” and “the possibilities are endless”.
By using stunning imagery of Edwyn’s birthplace in “Helmsdale” and its shore, the first part of the film skilfully reproduces the sense of confusion and bewilderment that Edwyn felt in the early days of his stroke. What follows is a remarkable journey of perseverance and a fighting spirit that enabled Edwyn to return back to writing, producing and singing in live events. Edwyn says “I do not do nostalgia, I am always looking forward”.
The trials and tribulations of stroke survivors and their carers have recently been a rich source for film makers: “Amour”, “Abuse of weakness”, and “Run and jump”, have all explored the impact of strokes on stroke survivors and the burden on families and carers. What “The possibilities are endless” adds to those films is a much needed note of optimism and hope based on a true story. The film also introduces a factual statement that strokes can affect any age group including young people, and shows that returning to one’s work can be an important aspect towards full recovery.
A key element in the film is the notion that Edwyn knew what the essential ingredients to his recovery, and those were the unconditional support he got from his wife, and his belief that “the possibilities are endless”. In the world of stroke rehabilitation, setting patients’ goals will not result in meaningful recovery unless these goals are set by and agreed with the stroke survivors themselves who know best which internal and external resources they can mobilize to get better.
The role of arts exemplified by music and drawing in Edwyn’s story have been instrumental in his recovery, we see him full of life, joy and laughter when he is back in his studio making and recording music and working tirelessly day after day to perfect his “drawing of a bird”. Through those daily routines, Edwyn was able to improve his dexterity, physical stamina and artistic expression. Connecting with happy childhood memories and using reminiscence to boost self assurance were another strategy that Edwyn and Grace used to get him through the difficult journey of stroke recovery.
The huge role that partners and families can play to help stroke survivors in achieving their maximum potential was beautifully portrayed in this film; Grace was with Edwyn from day one beside his bed whispering happy stories of their relationship together, and urging him to come back from his deep coma. Grace gives a cautionary note to stroke specialists “Do not give stroke patients and their families the worst possible scenario, no one really knows what will happen after a brain haemorrhage. So if you do not know, be honest and say “We do not know”.
Maintaining a realistic, non-sentimental tone, the film does not present life after a stroke as rosy or easy; there are persistent physical and emotional after effects. Edwyn’s slow but determined stroll down the beach with the wind blowing is a subtle image of determination, and it is made more poignant when we see Grace walking slowly behind him inspiring him with confidence and without words telling him that “the possibilities are endless”.
Directed by Edward Lovelace and James Hall, UK 2014
Released in UK cinemas on November 7th
Review by Dr Khalid Ali, senior lecturer in Geriatrics and stroke consultant at Brighton and Sussex Medical School, firstname.lastname@example.org