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article imageReview: 'TransFatty Lives' is an artist's journey with ALS Special

By Michael Thomas     May 2, 2015 in Entertainment
Patrick O'Brien, up until 2005, was known for his weird art films and projects, but it's all put in jeopardy when he finds out he has ALS.
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a devastating disease that slowly "unplugs" the brain from the rest of the body, making the person afflicted eventually lose the ability to walk, talk and more generally move.
Despite the onslaught, Patrick O'Brien (known online as TransFatty) always keeps the cameras rolling. Transfatty Lives chronicles O'Brien over 10 years as both the subject and the director.
The film starts on an image that returns throughout the film — O'Brien is walking through his apartment with his walker, when he falls over, causing a bunch of vinyl records to clatter on top of him. It's clear then and there that the journey will not be a uniformly easy one, but even as O'Brien begins to lose his faculties, it's extremely evident that his artist's mind has remained intact.
This is especially true in a scene where he is unable to breathe, leading to his panicked sister calling a doctor. As the doctor tries to assess what's wrong, O'Brien repeatedly asks his sister to film her own reactions to what's going on, and she listens, despite being in tears.
The personal torment O'Brien feels is illustrated with scattered film clips and animation — he manages to turn a monologue about an ant about to crawl up his nose into a disturbing thing of beauty. Some moments feature a speed-of-light cut of images obviously meant to horrify, and help give audiences an idea of the suffering he's going through.
Eventually the film reaches a climactic point where O'Brien must make a choice — he can live or he can die. He makes his choice, and the reasoning behind it becomes abundantly clear when audiences realize who his letter-like narrations are aimed at.
Navigating through love and sickness, TransFatty Lives should raise a lot more awareness of ALS than the Ice Bucket Challenge ever could.
TransFatty Lives will hold its final screening at the Hot Docs film festival on Saturday.See all of Digital Journal's 2015 festival coverage here.
More about transfatty lives, patrick obrien, Hot docs, hot docs 2015, Als
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