Brandon has Downs Syndrome but is a carer for his ailing bereaved mother. It gives him a sense of pride in his abilities-shopping, keeping things tidy and caring for his mother. She dies and he must now adapt to a life outside this nest. It is a film for the grieving and the lost and those who know that hearts are feral. Released in 2016. Available on Prime Video. Celebrate Down Syndrome Day, March 21.
My Feral Heart is a film directed by Jane Gull, making her debut and she guides both Brandon (lead protagonist with Downs’ Syndrome) and the film to a beautiful reading of Duncan Paveling’s credible, unique story. It is a rare film. The main protagonist Steven Brandon, has Downs Syndrome-not just acted, but real. The film opens with scenes showing his simple and determined purpose in caring for himself and his mother with the help of a tight domestic routine- shopping lists and caring, cleaning methods.
He is the carer for his elderly mother and the scenes where he bathes her lovingly, tries to dance with her and animate her as she grieves for her dead husband, are a touch of genius. She does not ‘see’ him as a different human being and treats him more or less as the ‘stand in’ for his dead father. She is routinely disappointed when it occurs to her that Brandon is not her dead husband. Brandon bears with this pain stoically and continues to be loving and caring.
After her death, he is moved to a home and there are precious moments which capture his overwhelming surprise, pain and disappointment
when he loses the independence he is used to while looking after his mother. Instead he must now bear with being treated as a disabled dependent, to be cared for against his wishes. Release from this agony comes when he is able to sneak away into the wild land beyond and have a bit of ‘adult’ time befriending a troubled young man, who looks after the garden and is coping with grief and a ‘wildling’, who we dont really see fully throughout the film. She is hiding out in an abandoned shed.
A relationship develops between the two. He fills a bathtub in the shed with water and helps wash her, a repeat from his past. Later on, he protects her fiercely from marauding fox hunters.
The cast is endearing-Shana Swash, the young girl who looks after the people in the home, the humour at the home while managing difficulties which are grave, the empathy in unlikely places and the transition of Brandon from carer of mother into the wide world where he meets friends and begins to lead a life is heart warming. The film is aptly named ‘My Feral Heart’. Human hearts are feral no matter how much we try to civilise them-wounded and healing in unexpected ways, which we cannot always control.